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Labour seeks to protect face-to-face banking by forcing Commons vote

Labour is planning to force a vote on guaranteeing in-person banking across the country, following swathes of branch closures that have left local communities without face-to-face services.

The party’s amendment to the financial services and markets bill would give City regulators the power to ensure communities have regular access to “essential” in-person services, including opening new accounts, applying for loans, making and receiving payments and setting up standing orders.

That could mean protecting bank branches that would otherwise be at risk of closing, or creating hubs with shared services in poorly served communities.

Since 2015, nearly half of the UK’s bank branches have closed, as lenders cut costs and shift customers to online banking.

The amendment, which is tabled by the shadow City minister Tulip Siddiq, goes beyond the government’s proposals to ensure access to cash and support vulnerable people, including poorer or elderly individuals, who struggle to use digital banking.

Labour is also pushing for free-cash access, amid fears the legislation may result in consumers paying fees for withdrawals from cash machines or retailers.

Siddiq said: “We welcome that the government – after years of delay – has finally announced that it will be bringing forward access to cash legislation, but this bill does nothing to protect face-to-face banking or free access to cash services which the most vulnerable in our society depend on.

“It’s inevitable that payment and banking systems will continue to innovate, but the Conservatives’ failure to protect these services risks cutting off millions of people from essential goods and services. I hope the government does the right thing and supports Labour’s amendments.”

A Treasury spokesperson confirmed the government was bringing forward access to cash legislation, but did not directly comment on Labour’s in-person banking proposal. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) declined to comment.

Siddiq’s amendment is the latest addition to the wide-ranging bill, which is broadly aimed at overhauling City regulations originally inherited from the EU. If passed, it would also give regulators a secondary objective of promoting the competitiveness of UK firms.

Labour earlier this month revealed it would also use the bill to push for the first “national fraud strategy” in a decade, after consumers and businesses lost a record £1.3bn through fraud and financial scams last year.

The government is also considering whether to table a separate amendment that would controversially give Treasury ministers sweeping powers to override decisions by UK watchdogs including the Bank of England and FCA. Some senior officials have warned it could threaten the independence and international reputation of the country’s financial regulators.

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