The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that the NatWest Crouch End and Hornsey branch must not be closed; notes that bank branches have been closing at the rate of fifty a month since 2015; declares that this has caused huge inconvenience to customers, small businesses and has led to the loss of valued, highly trained staff; further that over 8 million people would struggle in a cashless society, particularly elderly, vulnerable people and those on lower incomes; further that this relentless programme of branch closures will worsen inequality in our society and further that banks need to use some of their vast profits to show some social responsibility to the communities they serve.
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 NatWest Crouch End and Hornsey branch is not closed down.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Catherine West, Official Report, 19 October 2021; Vol. 701, c. 728.]
Observation from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen):
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 NatWest Crouch End and Hornsey 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, NatWest 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 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 face-to-face 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 NatWest has published for the Crouch End and Hornsey closure, customers are pointed to the nearby cash machines at the Barclays, Nationwide and TSB branches (150 metres away), as well as alternative NatWest branches in Muswell Hill (1.24 miles away), Wood Green (1.63 miles away) and Holloway Road (1.77 miles away).
Alternatively, NatWest 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 across the UK. The nearest Post Office branches to the Crouch End and Hornsey NatWest branch are in Crouch End (0.2 miles away), Hornsey (0.67 miles away) and on Hornsey Road (0.75 miles away).
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.
If other banks in the local area have more extensive facilities, the hon. Member’s constituents may wish to consider moving to an alternative bank. If so, they may be interested in using the Current Account Switch Service (CASS). The switch service is free to use, comes with a guarantee to protect customers from financial loss if something goes wrong, and redirects any payments mistakenly sent to the old account, providing further assurance for customers. This means that customers are more able than ever to hold their banks to account by voting with their feet, and that banks are incentivised to work hard to retain their existing customers and attract new ones. More information can be found at: www.currentaccountswitch.co.uk.