Access to cash and banking services remain vital for many people, particularly for consumers in vulnerable circumstances.
Update: 15 December 2021
The FCA and PSR have published a statement in response to the Cash Action Group’s (CAG) announcement that retail banks and building societies will create an independent body to assess the needs of local communities and direct cash solutions.
Why we are looking at access to cash and banking services
Access to cash and banking services remain vital for many consumers and businesses. Our Financial Lives 2020 survey found that 10% of adults rely on cash for all or most of their daily purchases. Our data shows that most people currently have reasonable access to cash through a combination of bank, building society, or Post Office branches and ATMs. But, the long-term decline in the use of cash has made it more expensive for individual firms to maintain the existing infrastructure needed for current levels of access to continue.
Along with the PSR, the Bank of England and the Treasury, we are committed to protecting access to cash – particularly for consumers with characteristics of vulnerability who rely on cash. It is part of our priority to make payments safe and accessible for consumers and to ensure they can access the cash they need.
The story so far
In March 2020, the Government announced its intention to legislate to maintain access to cash in the long-term. That legislation will provide a framework to protect access to cash for those who need it. In summer 2021, the Treasury consulted on establishing geographic requirements for the provision of cash withdrawal and deposit facilities, designating firms for meeting these requirements, and establishing further regulatory oversight of cash service provision.
As part of the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group, with the Bank of England and the Treasury, the FCA and PSR have been collecting evidence, data and research to support individual and collaborative work on access to cash.
During the pandemic, along with the PSR, we worked closely with industry to address the challenges of ensuring cash access for the people who want to use it. As a result, even at the height of the pandemic no more than 0.1% of the UK population lost access to a source of cash within 3 miles. We published a short statement on this work in June 2020 and an Insight article in September 2020.
In September 2020, we published guidance setting out our expectation that firms should consider the impact of branch and ATM closures on their customers’ everyday banking needs and consider the availability and provision of alternatives. We have been supervising firms closely as they consider branch closures, assessing plans based on the risk of harm to consumers. In January 2021, we asked banks to pause closures where, due to the pandemic, they are unable to meet the expectations laid out in our guidance. In May 2021 we published a joint statement on access to cash with the PSR to clarify that we expect firms to help protect access to cash and wider banking services in ways that meet consumers’ needs. Sheldon Mills, Executive Director of Consumers and Competition, also highlighted the importance of action by individual firms and the wider industry at the Which? Cash Summit in May 2021.
In July 2021, we published research commissioned by us to Savanta ComRes on trends in consumers' use of cash followed by research published in November 2021 on Small and Medium Sized businesses’ (SME) use and acceptance of cash. This research gives us accurate data and evidence to inform our policy work on access to cash, enabling us to focus on those who need and use cash the most.
The FCA and PSR also provide quarterly updates on the assessment of the UK’s Cash infrastructure:
We will continue to publish quarterly updates and to collect detailed information about access to cash coverage to inform our policy work and ensure we can act quickly if we see problems emerging.
We will continue to supervise firms closely when they consider bank branch and ATM closures and conversions to ensure fair treatment of customers. We will also support the Government in the development of legislation to protect access to cash.
We welcome the commitment from individual firms and the banking and finance industry to take forward action to protect access to cash and close gaps in provision, exemplified in the Cash Action Group (CAG). The group is currently developing and trialling solutions for how access to cash can be protected in the long term – as seen in the recent extension of the shared Bank Hub pilot scheme and the rollout of ‘cashback without purchase’ to smaller shops.
We will update this page as our work progresses.