The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that the Barclays Muswell Hill branch must not be closed; further that petitioners are extremely disappointed that Barclays has announced the closure of their Muswell Hill branch in June 2022; further that millions of people still rely on cash and petitioners believe that the relentless programme of bank closures only widens inequality by accelerating the move towards a cashless society; and further that Barclays should reconsider and consider the social impact of their proposed closure.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to consider the concerns of the petitioners and take immediate action to ensure that the Barclays Muswell Hill branch is not closed down.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Catherine West, Official Report, 9 June 2022; Vol. 715, c. 1046.]
Observations from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Richard Fuller):
The Government thank the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West, for submitting the petition on behalf of her constituents regarding the closure of the Barclays Muswell Hill branch.
The Government are sorry to hear of her constituents’ disappointment at the planned closure of the branch. The way consumers interact with their banking is changing. In 2020, 83% of UK adults used contactless payments, 72% used online banking and 54% used mobile banking, according to UK Finance. Government cannot reverse the changes in the market and in customer behaviour; nor can they determine firms’ commercial strategies in response to those changes. Having the flexibility to respond to changes in the market is what makes the UK’s financial services sector one of the most competitive and productive in the world, and the Government want to protect that.
As with other banking service providers, Barclays will need to balance customer interests, market competition, and other commercial factors when considering its strategy. Although the Government can understand constituents’ dissatisfaction, decisions on opening and closing branches are taken by the management team of each bank on a commercial basis. The Government hope that the hon. Member can appreciate that it would be inappropriate for the Government to intervene in these decisions.
However, the Government also firmly believe that the impact of branch closures should be understood, considered, and mitigated where possible so that all customers, wherever they live, continue to have appropriate access to banking services.
As the hon. Member may know, the largest banks and building societies have been signed up to the Access to Banking Standard since 2017, which commits them to ensure that customers are well informed about branch closures, the bank’s reasons for closure and options for continued access to banking services. Guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) also sets out its expectation of firms when they are deciding to reduce their physical branches or the number of free-to-use ATMs. Firms are expected to carefully consider the impact of a planned closure on their customers’ everyday banking and cash access needs and consider possible alternative access arrangements. This will ensure the implementation of closure decisions is done in a way that treats customers fairly.
In the customer information pack that Barclays has published for the Muswell Hill Branch closure, customers are pointed to the nearby free-to-use ATMs at the nearby Nationwide Building Society and Halifax branches less than a mile away, as well as alternative Barclays branches in Crouch End (1.5 miles away) and Noel Park (2 miles away).
The hon. Member may be interested to know that the FCA is currently consulting on requirements for more detailed analysis on how firms assess the impact on customers when they plan to close a branch, remove or convert an ATM or reduce the services they provide. These proposals include extending communications to other groups such as local charities and councils to understand the wider impact from changes to services. The consultation closes on 26 July. More information can be found on the FCA’s website: https://www.fca.org.uk/publications/guidance-consultations/gc22-2-branch-atm-closures-conversions-updated-guidance-firms
Alternatively, Barclays customers can access everyday banking services via telephone banking, through digital means such as mobile or online banking and via the Post Office. The Post Office Banking Framework allows 99% of personal banking and 95% of business customers to deposit cheques, check their balance and withdraw and deposit cash at 11,500 Post Office branches across the UK. The nearest Post Office branches to the Muswell Hill Barclays branch are in Muswell Hill (0.1 miles away) and East Finchley (1.1 miles away).
The Government have also made commitments to protect access to cash in recognition that cash remains an important part of daily life for millions of people across the UK, particularly those in vulnerable groups. Last year, the Government consulted on legislative proposals for ensuring the UK’s cash system is sustainable for the long term. Following this, in the Queen’s Speech in May 2022 the Government announced that they will introduce legislation to protect access to cash as part of the Financial Services and Markets Bill. The Bill will establish the FCA as the lead regulator for access to cash with responsibility to ensure that people can continue to access cash withdrawal and deposit facilities, and associated monitoring, supervision and enforcement powers over banks and building societies designated by HM Treasury.
Following the Government’s commitment to legislate, firms are working together through the Cash Action Group to develop new initiatives to provide shared services. As part of this, any community facing the closure of a key cash service will have its needs independently assessed by LINK. In circumstances where LINK considers that a community requires additional cash services, it will be responsible for ensuring a suitable shared solution for all cash users in that community. Communities will also be able to request a review of their community’s needs by LINK from the summer of 2022 onwards. Further information on the assessment process is available on the LINK website: https://www.link.co.uk/initiatives/bank-branch-closures/. In light of the significant steps taken by industry to improve co-ordinated efforts by firms, the Government’s intention is for the Financial Services and Markets Bill to enable HM Treasury to designate industry co-ordination arrangements for FCA oversight.