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Calls for rural bank branches to be a legal requirement

People in rural areas have more problems accessing banking services, with branch closures and poor connectivity.

Alex   Black

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Calls for rural bank branches to be a legal requirement

Scottis Rural Action has called for a ‘universal service obligation’ for banking services after a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) survey revealed people in rural areas had more difficulty getting to banks and using internet banking systems.

The FCA found 70 per cent of UK adults who never use the internet, or 3.7 million people, lived in rural areas and the take-up of mobile banking in rural areas was nearly half the amount in urban areas, at 23 per cent.

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There was already a universal service obligation (USO) in place for Royal Mail and a Government promise of a USO of 10 megabits per second broadband by 2020, leading Scottish Rural Action to suggest they should be put in place in the private sector.

Emma Cooper, the group’s chief executive, said bank closures were compounding the feeling people were disadvantaged by living in the countryside, as they already had connectivity problems.

“You cannot access internet banking if you do not have broadband,” she said.

Internet access

The problem is expected to get worse as more people become reliant on the internet, with Government services such as benefits and farm payment systems moving online.

And even those people in the countryside who are connected to the internet tend to have to pay the most expensive price.

Ms Cooper said: “Unlike urban areas, you do not get the same range of choices.”

The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) said the figures were no surprise as the closure of rural banks had a detrimental effect on rural towns and questioned why the banks partially owned by tax payers were not required to keep branches open.

It added internet banking was still not an option in all rural areas as people may not have an appropriate internet connection, ‘if they have a connection at all’, and others worried about cyber security.

The union also suggested rural areas were being made less attractive to young families and business owners as more rural services and businesses closed down.

A spokesman said: “If the problem of rural depopulation is not addressed with some urgency, it could have severe consequences for our rural communities and also our rural economy.”

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