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Santander Bath Road branch

Volume 700: debated on Monday 6 September 2021

The petition of residents of Feltham and Heston,

Declares that the Santander branch on Hounslow Bath Road should not be closed; further that access to in-person banking services is crucial to many residents in the local area; and further that residents feel that they will not have access to a comparable banking service over the phone or online and will struggle financially as a result.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to ask that Santander does not close the Bath Road branch.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Seema Malhotra, Official Report, 14 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 486.]

[P002675]

Observations from The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen):

The Government thank the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) for submitting the petition on behalf of her constituents regarding the closure of the Santander Bath Road 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. The 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, Santander will need to balance customer interests, market competition, and other commercial factors when considering its strategy. Although the Government can understand the 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 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 access to over the counter banking services.

As the hon. Member may know, the major high street banks signed up to the Access to Banking Standard in May 2017, which commits them to ensure customers are well informed about branch closures, the bank’s reasons for closure and options for continued access to banking services. I note that in the customer information pack that Santander has published for the Bath Road closure, customers are pointed to the nearby cash machines in the Barclays branch and Maham Superstore, as well as alternative Santander branches in Hounslow (1.3 miles away) and Southall (3.4 miles away).

Alternatively, Santander customers can carry out their everyday banking at the nearby Post Office. The Post Office Banking Framework allows 95% of business and 99% of personal banking customers to carry out their everyday banking at 11,500 post office branches in the UK.

In September 2020, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published guidance setting out its expectation of firms when they are deciding to reduce the number of 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.