Banks failing disabled customers amid branch closures

Banks which are closing swathes of branches are making it more difficult for many disabled customers to access everyday financial services, new research has found.

Four in 10 bank users with disabilities have experienced a negative impact on their ability to use services as a result of local branches closing, according to a survey conducted by consumer group Which?.

Some of the issues reported by customers include difficulties using alternatives to branches such as phone and online banking. One in 10 said they had trouble navigating their bank’s website, while 36 per cent report that they find it difficult to talk to their bank over the phone.

One in five also struggled with the security measures required. This is a particularly acute problem for those who have memory difficulties, 30 per cent of whom said security measures posed a problem for them.

“It’s very concerning that disabled customers are reporting such a wide range of issues with banking services,” said Jenny Ross, Which?‘s money editor. “The rapid closure of bank branches has had a negative effect on many, and it seems some of the online systems people are being encouraged to use instead have been built with the needs of these consumers as an afterthought.

“This shows how a lack of oversight of changes to the banking system risks causing harm to consumers who would struggle without access to a local branch. The FCA’s current guidelines aren’t sufficient to protect them when a branch closes.

“As part of its legislation on cash access, the government must make the regulator responsible for ensuring that consumers aren’t cut off from essential services they depend on. Given the threat posed by the rapid shift to digital banking, it needs to do so at the earliest opportunity.”

British banks have been reorganising their branch networks in recent years as they adapt to an increasing shift to online banking among some customers. By the end of 2021, almost 4,300 UK branches will have closed since 2015, which represents a 44 per cent reduction in the overall network.

But even those banks which remain open were found not to be fully able to meet disabled customers’ needs, with 34 per cent saying they found it difficult to use branch services.

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In the survey of 1,500 disabled banking customers First Direct was rated as the best bank, with more than nine in ten (95 per cent) of customers saying they’re fairly or very satisfied with their bank. Nationwide, in second place overall, was the top-rated provider with branches.

HSBC had the lowest rating, with only 62 per cent of customers satisfied, followed by TSB (65 per cent).

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