The Treasury has pushed responsibility for ensuring access to cash on to the financial regulator, which is likely to increase fears that a lack of action will result in cash machine deserts.
Rishi Sunak said that the matter was best handled by the Financial Conduct Authority in a letter sent to Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor.
Dodds said: “He is washing his hands of the whole problem by foisting it on to the FCA. He can’t wriggle out of his responsibilities when there are so many people who still depend on cash.”
Sunak’s comments add to fears that the Treasury is not planning to legislate to ensure cash remains accessible across the country, despite pledging to do so in the budget last year.
The shift to digital payments has intensified during the pandemic, accelerating closures of cash machines as they become increasingly expensive to run. Banks are also closing branches as footfall drops and to cut costs. Which?, the consumer group, has warned that if a single big bank pulls out of the Link cash machine network “widespread cash access will no longer be viable”.
Sunak wrote that the government would ensure “regulators have the right responsibilities and powers to oversee the cash system” but made no new pledge to introduce legislation setting out banks’ obligations. Dodds warned of “an uncontrolled retreat from cash, with no one really having a grip of the unequal effects of this on different parts of the community”.