Financial Exclusion: Access to Cash — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:33 am on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 10:33 am, 21st May 2019

I am worried about time, so if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will press on.

Consumer organisation Which? has found that cashpoints disappeared at a rate of 488 per month between June and December last year, with more than 250 free-to-use cash machines closing monthly and 3,300 UK bank branches closing their doors since 2015. One in five cash machines in Scotland will impose charges by the end of this year. It is self-evident that charges for using ATMs hit those who are much less affluent much harder, because those people are more likely to make regular smaller withdrawals rather than occasional larger ones. Quite contrarily, pay-to-use cash machines are most often found in poorer areas—yet another poverty premium that punishes the less well-off.

It is clear that we need urgent regulatory action to protect the right of consumers to use cash. Otherwise, as the Minister will know, we will exclude many of our constituents from buying goods and services that they wish to access. I therefore fully support the Which? campaign “Freedom to pay. Our Way.”, which is supported by the Federation of Small Businesses. The campaign calls on the Government to appoint a regulator with sole responsibility for cash infrastructure, to ensure that consumers and businesses can continue to access cash. It should not be an uphill struggle for people to access the cash on which they rely, because it means that they struggle to go about their daily business.

The drift towards digital has not been without its problems, including IT glitches such as the high-profile problems suffered last year by TSB, which caused chaos for consumers. As the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston reminded us, aside from IT glitches, people living in rural areas can find digital access extremely problematic, with poor broadband reliability. Of the 5.3 million adults who never use the internet, 70%—some 3.7 million people—live in rural areas. They do not rely on cards and digital payments. We must not overlook the challenges of relying on digital payments for consumers and businesses in rural areas, as mentioned by Jamie Stone.

It is essential that consumer interests are front and centre in this debate—the customer must be king. The way we bank and the way we pay for our goods and services must meet the needs of all customers, and banks and financial institutions must have a legal duty of care for their customers.

I hope the Minister will indicate the Government’s willingness to appoint a regulator with sole responsibility for the cash infrastructure, to ensure consumers and businesses can continue to access cash. I hope to hear what he will do to ensure a duty of care in all our communities so that they are not financially excluded and can access the goods and services that they need. It is clear from this debate that there is a financial exclusion crisis. I am sure we are all keen to hear what measures the Government will take and are willing to take to address the matter.