On 11 July 2019, the UK Government (the Government) published its response to the Treasury Committee report, ‘Consumers’ Access to Financial Services’, published on 13 May 2019.

The report contained a number of recommendations including:

  • firms should be required to always act in the customers’ best interests – a legal duty of care may be necessary;
  • bank branches and free-to-use ATMs should be preserved; and
  • banks must fund shared hubs to prevent loss of ‘last bank in town’.

In terms of a legal duty of care, the Government response is as follows:

“The Government has given the FCA a mandate to secure an appropriate degree of protection for consumers. Last year, the FCA issued a discussion paper on a duty of care and potential alternative approaches. On 23 April, the FCA published a Feedback Statement on its Discussion Paper on Duty of Care and announced that it will undertake further work to examine how best to address potential deficiencies in consumer protection, in particular by reference to its Principles for Businesses. The Government will continue to engage with the FCA as it progresses this work.”

As regards free-to-use ATMs, the Government welcomes the independent Access to Cash Review and its contribution to the debate on not only ATMs but wholesale cash supply. It also supports the Bank of England’s work to develop a new system for wholesale cash distribution that is intended to support the UK in an environment of declining cash volumes. The Government states that if cash is to remain a viable part of the UK’s infrastructure “we need to think creatively, innovatively and beyond equating cash access with ATMs”.

In relation to shared hubs to prevent loss of ‘last bank in town’ the Government continues to be supportive of the Access to Banking Standard and values the commitment it places on banks to minimise the impact of branch closures, including by ensuring that customers are aware of the ways they can continue to access banking services. The Government is engaging with the Lending Standards Board to ensure that the Standard remains fit-for-purpose. The Government also notes that the Treasury Committee recommends that it sets out whether competition law would prevent banks from sharing facilities. The Government states that while banks do have to comply with competition law, there is no specific regulation that prevents banks from sharing branches or other premises on a commercial basis where their interests require. The Government adds that it is actively engaging with banks and other stakeholders on how they can think creatively about how they ensure that consumers can access a wide range of banking services on a sustainable basis.