Arrogance remains the identifying characteristic of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group.
Despite being bailed out by the taxpayer, who is still years away from getting any money back, they flagrantly ignore Government policy and their responsibilities to wider society.
Both banks have restricted access to the Link network of cash machines for customers with basic bank accounts. This means the people who can least afford it have to pay to take their money out or hunt for a machine belonging to their own bank.
The 8.4 million basic bank accounts are used by people with little money, including those with a poor credit history who may not be able to open a current account. If they are to improve their financial status, those on the lowest incomes also pay more for energy, insurance and credit.
In 2010, a Government taskforce said that banks should widen access and improve features of their basic bank accounts, while the EU wants everyone to have access to a bank account regardless of their financial history or circumstances. Instead, RBS, Nat West, Lloyds TSB and Bank of Scotland customers with a basic bank account found restrictions to cash machines phased in from autumn last year.
When other banks, including Barclays, HSBC and Santander have all made public commitments to continue to provide basic bank account holders with unrestricted access to cash machines, it is difficult to conclude anything other than that the taxpayer-owned banks have no scruples in targeting their most vulnerable customers. Perhaps, since they are the least profitable, they are trying to drive them away.
Research by Citizens Advice shows that 97% of withdrawals are made free of charge although only two-thirds of cash machines are free to use. Inevitably, the poorest areas tend to have fewer banks, making it more difficult for basic account holders to access one that does not charge. This situation will become worse if other providers of basic bank accounts also restrict access. The banks say the charges were introduced because they have to control their costs but they will not offset much from the meagre withdrawals from basic accounts.
While all banks are reconsidering the sustainability of "free" banking, those which recoup costs through their most vulnerable customers, while continuing to insist on multi-million pound bonuses, will have only themselves to blame if more valued customers take their money elsewhere. They should heed the call of the Treasury Select Committee to remove the restrictions on basic account holders' access to cash machines and remember that being bailed out by the taxpayer brings social and moral responsibilities.
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