CAMPAIGNERS in the Highlands say cutting opening hours of banks in remote rural communities is putting people, especially the vulnerable, at risk of being left without cash.
They argue that the Bank of Scotland’s recent decision to further cut the opening hours of branches at Bonar Bridge, Helmsdale and Dornoch and Lairg ignores the needs of those without access to the internet or without transport to travel round journeys of up to 50 miles to alternative ATMs or banks.
The bank says the changes are being carried out as part of an ongoing review into how and when customers carry out their banking at particular locations. The bank points out that the way customers use their services has changed significantly and that fewer of them are using banks for single transactions. It adds that it has actually increased its hours in some key locations.
The worst affected area is Bonar Bridge which has seen opening hours being cut from 13 hours to only five hours on a Tuesday.
Local resident Michael Baird, 67, a retired scientist, who is now lodging a complaint with Financial Ombudsman Service, said: “Despite assurances from the Bank of Scotland, not every village has an ATM that works and secondly, has enough money in it.
“Not everyone has a car to get to alternative ATMs and bus services are limited. We have an ageing population here, for example elderly people whose pensions are paid into the bank now being told they can just use the post office. But post offices are not as private as banks, with everyone behind you seeing the notes being counted out.
“We also have bed and breakfasts and other businesses round here who operate on a cash basis.
He added that although the Royal Bank of Scotland operates a mobile bank this involved only a fortnightly stop for between 20 minutes and half an hour at Bonar Bridge.
Paul Monaghan, SNP MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has tabled a number of parliamentary questions requesting details of the correspondence the UK government has had with the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Lloyds TSB regarding implementing the access to banking protocol and the reduction or closure of services in his constituency.
Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said the reduction in banking hours would be a loss to a range of people in the community.
“The banks are saying everyone is banking online but they forget that many people here can’t get on the website because the connection is slow.
“There is also a portion of the community which is going to be disadvantaged. A good number of elderly people don’t have computers, and if they do, are not keen on carrying out their financial business online.
“Business people too are going to be affected. We have a lot of small businesses which deal only in cash.
“I think the banks need to be more innovative and look at ideas such as community hubs and making sure mobile banks stay in locations a good bit longer.”
A spokesman for Age Scotland, said: “We are concerned that the Bank of Scotland’s valued customers are being overlooked, particularly in rural communities. There will be accessibility drawbacks for many people, especially those who are not online or have the means to travel to bank elsewhere.
“We would encourage people who are concerned about this to consider other banking options particularly now there is a 7-Day Guarantee Current Account Switch Service available. If you’re looking for advice you can call Silver Line Scotland, our free 24-hour helpline, on 0800 4 70 80 90.’”
A spokeswoman for the Bank of Scotland said: “We constantly review all our branches to ensure we are meeting with customers’ needs.
Should the branches at Dornoch, Lairg, Helmsdale or Bonar Bridge see an increase in customer footfall or a change in the pattern of its usage, this will of course be taken into account in future decision-making processes.”