52% of people with disabilities ‘negatively affected by bank branch closures’

Consumer group Which? carried out research among more than 2,700 bank customers with disabilities.

Vicky Shaw
Wednesday 14 June 2023 00:01 BST
More than half of bank customers with disabilities feel that branch closures have negatively affected their ability to access vital banking services, according to Which? (Andrew Matthews/PA)
More than half of bank customers with disabilities feel that branch closures have negatively affected their ability to access vital banking services, according to Which? (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

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More than half (52%) of bank customers with disabilities feel that branch closures have negatively affected their ability to access vital banking services, according to a Which? survey.

The consumer group carried out research among more than 2,700 bank customers with disabilities.

As well as the negative impact of branch closures, those surveyed also mentioned wheelchair access (13%), hearing loops (10%) and accessible debit card (12%) issues in the past 12 months.

Which? said financial firms have a legal obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure people are not excluded.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) also sets out guidelines for financial firms to follow when dealing with vulnerable customers, which means they should experience outcomes as good as other consumers, Which? said.

The FCA’s new consumer duty, which will be introduced this summer, will require firms to support staff to identify signs of vulnerability and set up systems that enable customers to disclose their needs if they choose.

The survey indicated that alternatives put in place to plug gaps left by physical branches closing are not always up to scratch.

Over a third (35%) of people surveyed find it fairly or very difficult to speak to their bank over the phone, while more than one in five (21%) struggle with security features such as card readers or remembering passwords.

New security checks for online card payments, known as strong customer authentication, also proved problematic for just under two-fifths (39%) of those surveyed.

Some said this was down to running out of time, or issues receiving security codes due to a poor mobile signal.

Bank branch closures can have significant impacts on local communities and in particular those living with disabilities, who are among the most likely people in society to rely on both cash and in-person banking services

Sam Richardson, Which? Money

Sam Richardson, deputy editor of Which? Money, said: “Bank branch closures can have significant impacts on local communities and in particular those living with disabilities, who are among the most likely people in society to rely on both cash and in-person banking services.

“Which? believes that banks must consider the impact on disabled customers’ ability to access vital face-to-face banking services before they shut physical branches, as our research shows alternative services often aren’t up to scratch.

“With new consumer duty rules less than two months away, the regulator must not hesitate to take tough enforcement action against firms who fail to meet the required standards of customer care.”

Which? asked more than 2,700 customers who have a disability or impairment from the Which? Connect panel and the Research Institute for Disabled Customers to rate banks in March 2023.

While fewer people are using bank branches, which does lead to some difficult decisions regarding closures, the industry is opening a number of shared banking hubs across the country

UK Finance

It said as of June 2, banks and building societies had closed or were scheduled to close 5,695 branches since January 2015.

A UK Finance spokesperson said: “The banking and finance industry is committed to helping all customers.

“Firms offer a range of services to help support disabled customers and we would encourage people to contact their bank to discuss the options available.

“The industry also works with various third sector organisations to help them understand challenges customers face and improve accessibility.

“While fewer people are using bank branches, which does lead to some difficult decisions regarding closures, the industry is opening a number of shared banking hubs across the country.”

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