Banks 'must not quit ATM network'

ATMBritain's largest banks should not be allowed to abandon the nationwide network of cash machines, Labour says.

Shadow treasury minister Chris Leslie said it was "shocking" many big banks were now withdrawing from the UK-wide Link network of ATM machines, telling MPs it would lead to the banks who continued to sign up to the service to charge for cash withdrawals.

Mr Leslie also said he was worried banks would want to charge customers simply to have a bank account, even if they were in credit while many consumers were finding it increasingly difficult to access credit.

Speaking during a debate on the Governments Financial Services Bill in the Commons, Mr Leslie said he wanted assurances from the Government that the largest banks would continue to provide a basic service and act as a "social utility".

He said: "In some parts of the country it is difficult for consumers to access affordable credit. If they want to be completely ripped off they can go and pay for high cost credit, often on very short term basis at immense interest rate charges, which can accumulate and get people in to jeopardy.

"(Banks) have a duty to the community to make sure that all parts of the country are served by basic banking facilities. There are some signs of the creeping onset of charges.

"I think one of the most shocking changes has been the way in which some of the big banks have started to gradually pull out of the Link cash machine network and depends on making sure all the banks are part and parcel of that.

"If some banks withdraw from that as happened then more of the cost of maintaining that network falls on a minority of the banks and of course are therefore more likely to walk away from it."

Treasury Minister Greg Clark said there no legal right to a basic account but added that under current guidelines, banks could only refuse to open an account if an applicant had been found bankrupt or had a conviction for fraud.

He said the Government was also asking for more data on lending patterns in deprived areas, adding that if it was not forthcoming ministers would look towards legislation. He added: "It is not possible and it is not right for the Government to require particular branches to be kept open."

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