Blog: UK Pushes to Legally Protect Access to In-Person Banking Services – PYMNTS.com

As it currently stands, the proposed Financial Services and Markets Bill in the U.K. will give the Treasury and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) a new mandate to protect access to cash services across the country.

The new legislation is deemed important because bank branches and ATMs in the U.K. have been closing at a significant rate in recent years, a similar trend occurring across Europe that has led to countries like Sweden and Spain passing laws to enshrine access to cash services.

Read more: Maintaining Physical Bank Branches Keeps Cash Alive In Underserved European Communities

In Sweden, for example, the changes came after lobbying from consumer associations concerned about the impact closures have on rural communities and some of society’s most vulnerable. With some of the lowest cash usage in Europe, the Scandinavian country is especially at risk of losing its cash infrastructure entirely and was one of the first to legislate to protect access.

While the ability to withdraw cash is clearly important, in the latest development of the U.K. bill’s passage through parliament, the opposition Labour Party wants to extend protections to a range of in-person banking services. These include opening new accounts, applying for loans, making and receiving payments and setting up standing orders, the Guardian reported.

The proposal is significant because although provisions to ensure access to cash have been welcomed by consumer groups, they will do little to stem the tide of closures that has seen nearly half of the country’s bank branches shuttered since 2015. After all, as long as an ATM is still available nearby, banks will still be able to close premises without breaching cash access rules.

As Labour’s Tulip Siddiq argued in a parliamentary debate on the bill in September, “[It] does not seem to do anything to protect essential face-to-face banking services. It also makes no commitment to free access to cash.”

Siddiq’s comments point to a second aspect of Labour’s plans that will push for a right to free cash access amid concerns that the current legislation says little about withdrawal fees, risking a situation where people have access to cash, but only if they pay for it.

The Guardian also reported that the party will seek to table an amendment calling for a new fraud strategy.

As PYMNTS has reported, although fraud in the U.K. declined in the first half of 2022, it doesn’t represent any significant improvement but instead a simple return to normal levels after 2021’s unprecedented surge in cases of authorized push payment (APP) fraud.

Learn more: Authorized Push Payment Fraud Reaches ‘Epidemic’ Levels in UK

Meanwhile, while the first draft of the bill focuses on revoking and replacing EU-era legislation as well as redefining the role of the U.K.’s financial regulators, the government has amended it to put forward new rules for crypto assets and buy now, pay later (BNPL) loans.

 

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