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Access to Cash

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 3 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to ensure that the public have access to cash throughout the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government are committed to safeguarding access to cash while supporting digital payments. Last year, we launched a call for evidence on cash and digital payments in the new economy. We will publish a summary of responses in due course. We will continue to work with regulators and banks to ensure that people continue to have real choice over how they spend their money.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the great worry experienced by 17% of our citizens about their virtually permanent need for access to cash? Against that background, has my noble friend found time to see and read the Which? report, the submissions made by Age UK and the rather heavy tome produced by Access to Cash Review? If he has, that is a happy coincidence. If not, will he please make sure he does so? Is he also aware—

My Lords, 17% of our citizens are suffering. Against that worry, is he aware that, while the Post Office and Nationwide are helping, the rest of the mutuals movement is handicapped by the Government’s failure to implement fully the Mutuals’ Deferred Shares Act 2015?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the mutuals. The noble Lord is right that a situation is emerging where people, particularly the most vulnerable, are seeing access to cash beginning to reduce as a payment option. One in six transactions used to be made in cash; at the moment it is one in three, and it will go down to one in 10. This is an inevitable consequence of the movement of technology. We need to adjust, but we are committed to supporting access to cash for the most vulnerable people, to whom he referred.

My Lords, times they are a-changing. Tottenham Hotspur is playing its first match on Saturday—tonight, sorry—in its extremely expensive but attractive new stadium, and the stadium is cashless. They must have got their demography right in making that decision, but even if in urban areas there are sufficient cash points and access to cash, in rural areas and small towns there is a developing crisis. A very large number of people, as has already been mentioned, do not have ready access to cash. When will the Government appoint someone to monitor this situation and insist that the banks and other organisations supply cashpoints?

That is partly within the role of the Payment Systems Regulator, although not entirely. On the point about cash and Link machines, Link is a network of banks that supervise these things. It has increased the intercharge fee between ATMs so that it can meet its obligation to ensure that ATMs are at least 1 kilometre from the next free ATM in rural areas. That is a very important commitment, which the regulator will hold them to account for.

Does the Minister accept that in those scattered rural areas there is the very real problem that it is impossible to get good broadband connectivity, and therefore internet banking is not possible? That is not just an inconvenience; it means it is very difficult to get economic development of the sort that is needed.

I am aware of that. There is obviously the universal service obligation. This year for the first time telephone banking apps will overtake digital online as the way in which most people access their banking services, so that is another factor. However, I am aware of the concern.

My Lords, Barclays and HSBC have ATMs with an audio output, which enables blind people to access their cash independently. What will the Minister do to encourage the remaining banks to increase the independence of blind people in accessing their cash independently by ensuring that all cash machines have an audio output, such as those of Barclays and HSBC? Would he be willing to write to the CEOs of the remaining banks to find out how many of their ATMs have an audio output and what plans they have to ensure that all their machines have this vital facility?

I am happy to undertake to take that up with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who is responsible for retail banking, as well as the Financial Conduct Authority. I know that significant progress has been made on that, and I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, nearly 40% of payments are still in cash. Does the Minister recognise that although the payments regulator cites post offices as places where one can get cash, they tend to close at 4 pm or 5 pm? People need access, and 1 kilometre is far too far away to keep any local community functional in the way that it needs to be.

There are limitations that arise from the changes in the way that people access their financial services and cash. We are seeing contactless overtaking debit cards as a way of payment. These changes are happening, but it is important that the regulator and the Government work together with the industry to ensure that people continue to have the access they need to these important cash services.

My Lords, in fully supporting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, I draw attention to the corollary, which is the denial of choice as the financial institutions gradually seek to eliminate the use of cheques. I believe it is important for the Minister to take this issue alongside the cash issue so that people have genuine choice in the way that they pay their bills.

I am happy to undertake to do that. At the same time as I write the noble Lord, Lord Low, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a non-executive director of Link. Will the Minister recognise that in the review Natalie Ceeney has set out very clearly the way ahead for Link to work with the regulator in making cash available in line with the recommendations of the Ceeney report? Will he ensure that that is now implemented?

We are still studying the report, which came out fairly recently and contains a lot of data and material. The Link network went to countries such as Sweden, where the proportion of transactions in cash is now only 10%, and asked what could be learned from that situation, which is where we are going to be in five to 10 years’ time, to ensure that people in this country have protection and choice available to them.

My Lords, as the more affluent members of our society no longer carry cash, will the Government consider giving bank accounts and card readers to the destitute and homeless on our streets?

I do not want to make any value judgments about people carrying cash. Cash continues to be carried by the vast majority of the population—I think the report mentions a figure of about 95%. One of the things we have advanced is fee-free banking, which revolutionised the approach for many people in precisely the situations the noble Baroness refers to.