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Electronic Payment Devices

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with providers of electronic point-of-sale payment devices to make them accessible for those with a visual impairment, such as via tactile keypad.

My Lords, the Government are unequivocally supportive of all efforts by the financial services industry, the card machine operators and charities such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind to make card machines fully accessible for those with visual impairments. In November 2023, UK Finance published a list of vendors which produce approved devices, to assist merchants with purchasing a device that is sufficiently accessible.

My Lords, someone with low or no vision can access a smartphone because there is a Siri or voice-over function, and you can have several goes if you hit the wrong buttons the first time. If you are spending over £100 in hospitality and you are faced with a flat screen and you get it wrong, you lose access to your card. The providers are pretending that there is accessibility when there are markings down the left-hand side of a flatscreen. It is a major challenge for those without sight. It is, in my view, in complete breach of the Equality Act 2010. The providers do not provide the necessary covers that can be available to make at least a stab—I mean literally a stab—at hitting the right buttons, and it is time we acted.

I recognise the issues raised by the noble Lord, and the financial services industry also recognises these challenges. As I have already said, UK Finance publishes a list of vendors, recognising that it is not just financial services companies that use these machines; it may be the merchants themselves. This builds on work by UK Finance and the RNIB in publishing accessibility guidance, which only happened in 2022. Today, the third in a series of three forums is happening involving UK financial services groups and charities, and each of the three forums is focusing on specific interventions—whether it be technology or training to help improve the accessibility of all sorts of banking services.

My Lords, I declare my financial services interest as set out in the register, and I congratulate my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, on his timely Question. There are two issues involved here: access to, and the accessibility of, financial services and products. Both have serious impacts, if not got right, not just for the blind and visually impaired but for all people in our communities. For example, bank notes have never been more accessible, and yet have never been more difficult to access. What further conversations will the Government have with UK Finance and with all financial services organisations to ensure that there is both access to and accessibility of all financial services and products? Without this work, the Government cannot really stand up any claims to financial inclusion.

My noble friend raises a wide suite of issues. Underpinning all the work the financial services industry is doing is the Financial Conduct Authority, which is responsible for regulating the sector. Principle 6 of its principles for business says that the sector must take particular care in the treatment of vulnerable customers. The FCA is reviewing the needs of vulnerable customers and may update its guidance shortly.

My Lords, the Minister and other noble Lords have mentioned the FCA, and I would like to continue that conversation. When we left the EU, the credit card companies seized the opportunity of the loss of regulation to increase credit card interchange fees in the UK fivefold—a Brexit dividend for the card companies of some £200 million a year, the cost of which effectively falls on the consumer. Why have neither the Government nor the FCA as regulator acted to reverse what could be called the Brexit penalty?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question. Unfortunately, it goes slightly beyond my briefing today, but I will write.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for their work to improve accessibility in financial services for blind and partially sighted people. As ever more transactions become cashless, every customer must have confidence in the payment systems used. Can the Minister outline what, if any, regulations assist for the manufacturers and providers of touch-screen payment devices? Why does regulation not seem to have kept pace with this move towards touch-screen technology?

Regulations that were introduced at any particular point in time have become out of date very quickly. Underpinning the work we are doing is the Equality Act 2010. The whole point about having an independent regulator in the FCA is that its rules can change quickly. The FCA issues guidance which sets out how financial services organisations need to ensure that people with disabilities, who may be more vulnerable, get the support they need. That is better than regulation: having the FCA as an independent regulator is more agile than having straight government regulation.

My Lords, the Government’s regulators fail to protect the public. Virtually every regulator is failing to do its duty, while the Government stand by and do nothing. We need a regulator for the regulators.

My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I am here to speak for all regulators. However, the consumer duty was introduced, whereby the FCA must ensure that the financial services sector is delivering good outcomes to prevent harm. That was introduced only in July 2023 and will take a little while to bed in. We will monitor the outcomes of that consumer duty to ensure that it is having the impact on disabled and other vulnerable customers that we need to see.

My Lords, I would like to invite the Minister out to dinner, and I promise to pay if there is a flat screen that I can access.

Now that is a first at the Dispatch Box—I have been invited on to buses and trains but never out to dinner. I do not know what to say to that, but I will try to find a restaurant that has an appropriate touch screen and I would be happy to continue the conversation.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if the concept of “inclusive by design” was thoroughly understood, we would never have had these inaccessible touch-screen devices? Will she go back to the department and ensure that HM Treasury works to ensure that all financial services and products are inclusive designed at every stage?

I agree with my noble friend. That is something that the FCA should take from this, and it needs to feed back into the work that we know that EY, in conjunction with UK Finance, is doing on accessibility at the moment. If they are not talking about “inclusive by design”, then I think they are going wrong.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, on one of her rare visits to London, my wife had her credit card stolen? I monitored the use of the card and did not report it to the police because the thief was spending less than she was.