FCA and Payment Systems Regulator publish updated evidence on cash access

The FCA and Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) have published an updated assessment of the UK’s access to cash infrastructure, taking into account the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19), alongside new research on consumers who rely on cash.

The findings show that most people have reasonable access to cash through a combination of bank, building society, or Post Office branches and ATMs. The FCA and PSR estimate that 95.4% of the UK population are within 2km of a free cash access point and 99.7% are within 5 km.

Consumers’ ability to access banking services and cash can be affected when banks and ATM providers make decisions to close branches and cash machines.

In September 2020 the FCA published guidance on how it expects firms to approach branch and ATMs closures or conversions to make sure their customers are treated fairly. In May 2021 the FCA and PSR published a joint statement on their work to date and the FCA also reaffirmed its expectations for industry at the Which? Cash Summit.

The PSR recently published its second annual review of Specific Direction 8 (SD8) which ensures LINK does all it can to make free-to-use ATMs available for UK consumers. It has decided SD8 should remain in place until it expires in January 2022. The PSR will continue to monitor LINK’s commitment and how it is being met. The PSR is currently considering whether to issue a new direction to replace SD8 when it expires.     

Since then, the Treasury has launched a consultation  on establishing geographic requirements for the provision of cash withdrawal and deposit facilities, the designation of firms for meeting these requirements, and establishing further regulatory oversight of cash service provision.

Sheldon Mills, Executive Director, Consumers and Competition at the FCA said:

‘Around 5 million adults say they still rely on cash, and we know that where access is removed, it can affect the most vulnerable in society. This is why we have intervened in the past to provide banks with guidance on what to consider when closing branches.

‘Our research shows that most of the UK population have reasonable access to cash: 95.4% are within 2km of a free cash access point. But there are still pockets of consumers, some displaying characteristics of vulnerability, who do not have sufficient access to cash. We expect firms to help protect access to cash and wider banking services in ways that meet consumers’ needs, and we continue to engage with firms closing their branches, to ensure that they treat their customers fairly. We will also review over the coming months how we can strengthen our guidance to help protect reasonable access to cash and banking services.’

The FCA and the PSR will continue to work with Government to prepare for legislation, and with industry and other stakeholders on cash access issues. The FCA intends to update on the next steps on its work in Q4 this year.

Updated assessment of access to cash in the UK

Today’s publications give a broad overview of the evidence on the UK’s access to cash and will inform ongoing work to ensure consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can access the cash they need.

  • Access to Cash Coverage: 2021 Q1 Data, produced jointly with the PSR: Provides an overview of the UK’s geographical cash access coverage, including bank, building society, or Post Office branches and ATMs, at the end of the first quarter of 2021. It is the first in a series of planned quarterly updates that will monitor coverage over time. 
  • External consumer research: Building on our Financial Lives 2020 survey which found that 10% of adults said they relied on cash for all or most of their daily purchases, we commissioned this research to understand these consumers’ cash access needs and to get insight into their demographic and vulnerability characteristics.
     

Key findings

  • Most people have reasonable access to cash. This is provided through a combination of bank, building society, or Post Office branches and ATMs. We estimate that 95.4% of the UK population are within 2km of a free cash access point and 99.7% are within 5 km.
  • Rural access to cash is lower than urban access. The rural population travel further to withdraw and deposit cash which can reflect higher distances to all services such as shops, facilities and public services. For those living in the UK’s urban areas, 99.7% have access to a free source of cash within 2km. This falls to 76.6% of the UK rural population. When considering the 5km distance, 98.2% of the UK rural population are within a free source of cash. Overall, we estimate that 99% of the UK rural population have access to a free source of cash within 5.7km.
  • Many consumers say they rely on cash. Our research with Savanta ComRes shows that when access is removed, there is a risk of harm for those who depend on cash often because of a characteristic of vulnerability such as ill health, a life event, low financial resilience or low financial or digital capability. We are working to prevent that harm from happening.

 

For more information view our Access to cash page.

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