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Plans to tackle problems with accessing cash in the UK have been criticised by campaigners for the lack of clarity and detail in the long-awaited proposals.
City minister Andrew Griffith will on Friday release a plan to protect such services that will include fines for banks that fail to provide facilities for making deposits and withdrawals within a three-mile radius of retail customers and businesses.
The issue has climbed the political agenda as banks have accelerated closing branches across the country, prompting concern that consumers will be left without access to physical money. This year so far, British lenders have announced over 1,000 local office closures.
“People shouldn’t have to trek for hours to withdraw a tenner to put in someone’s birthday card — nor should businesses have to travel large distances to deposit cash takings,” said Griffith.
“These are measures which benefit everyone who uses cash but particularly those living in rural areas, the elderly and those with disabilities,” he said.
On Thursday, the government outlined some of its proposals ahead of announcing the full strategy. These include enshrining in law people’s right to have facilities within a reasonable distance and to enjoy fee-free withdrawals.
This is the first time that the government has explicitly set distances within which people can expect to access cash services.
Since 2007, the Post Office, a key cash provider, has been required to ensure that 99 per cent of the population have a branch within three miles, and that 90 per cent only have to travel one mile.
But the plans have prompted a backlash from consumer and business campaigners who say that key details are missing.
Derek French, a former NatWest executive and an advocate for protecting people’s access to cash, called Thursday’s outline of the plan “very vague”. “The devil will be in the detail,” he said.
French criticised the lack of reference to cash deposit services that are key for small businesses. He also noted that it was unclear which institutions would be obliged to protect services.
“To impose such an obligation on any one commercial bank, for example, is unworkable,” he said. “The existing rules about mileage distance can be imposed because the Post Office is a monopoly and owned by the government.”
The government said the Financial Conduct Authority, the regulator, which gained powers to protect access to cash in June under the Financial Services and Markets Act, would guarantee that 95 per cent of people would have to travel no further than three miles to withdraw money.
The need for action to protect cash outlets has become more urgent as banks have continued to shutter outlets.
Almost 1,100 closures have been announced this year, according to ATM operator Link. And consumer group Which? has estimated that nearly 6,000 bank branches have closed since January 2015, leaving just 4,000 across the UK.
“The government must put in place measures which ensure those who want to withdraw or deposit cash are appropriately served in their local communities,” said Jenny Ross, editor of Which? Money.