For years Money Mail has campaigned to keep bank branches open so customers can manage their money in person.
This has never been more important as branches continue to close at an alarming rate — forcing the elderly and vulnerable to travel miles for a face-to-face service. Yet even when branches are open, some banks are increasingly bullying customers into using self-service machines instead.
And banking giant Barclays has now been accused of quietly introducing new rules to restrict what transactions can be carried out at the counter.
No service: Banking giant Barclays has now been accused of quietly introducing new rules to restrict what transactions can be carried out at the counter
One Money Mail reader says she was turned away when trying to pay a bill because it was under £300.
Another was told by a cashier at the Walton-on-Thames branch that head office was monitoring transactions at counters and would ‘rebuke’ staff who did too many. Instead, they had been told to send customers to use self-service machines.
Barclays counters are also running a reduced service and are open only between 9.30am and 2pm or 3.30pm, even if the branch itself does not close until later.
Experts have accused the bank of trying to force customers online, so it has an excuse to close more branches.
Major High Street banks have axed 1,035 branches since the pandemic forced the first lockdown in March 2020, according to lobby group Which?
This is almost three times the number that closed the year before, it said. More than one in four branches shut belonged to Barclays.
Eleni Georgiou (pictured) was told any transactions under £300 had to be done using a self-service machine
And last month, Lloyds Banking Group revealed it was closing 48 more locations next year, including the last remaining bank on the Isles of Scilly, after axing 56 earlier this year.
Jane Dough, 72, who lives in Weybridge, Surrey, visited her local Barclays branch earlier this month to amend a standing order and make a cash withdrawal.
But after queuing at the counter, Jane, a former executive PA, was ordered to use two self-service machines — one for each task at either side of the room.
Jane refused as an error had been made last time, but the cashier insisted and tried to take her over to the machine.
Jane says: ‘It was like a standing battle. I was told I was in the minority and that most people wanted to use the machines, yet there was a queue of people stretching to the door waiting to be served at the counter.’
The clerk relented, but as Jane left she overheard an elderly lady also being told she must use the machine when she didn’t want to.
Jane adds: ‘I feel it is deeply cruel of Barclays to be harassing customers in this way. Some people may want to use the machines, but those who don’t should not have to. They come to a branch for a face-to- face service, which Barclays should also be providing.’
Eleni Georgiou, 72, had a similar experience when she visited her local Barclays branch in Palmers Green, North London, in September to pay a £221 credit card bill.
The cashier refused and told her any transactions under £300 had to be done using a self-service machine. But when she returned a month later to pay a £900 bill, she was turned away again as staff claimed the counter was only for business customers.
Eleni (pictured), a former receptionist who lives in Winchmore Hill in North London, says: ‘What is the point of having employees standing around waiting to direct customers to machines when they could be helping behind the counter?
‘Barclays clearly wants to close the counters and push more people online so it can shut more branches.
‘I ended up having to take several buses to use a diff-erent branch.’
Barclays came under fire in September after Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, a member of the Treasury Select Committee, revealed it had wrongly led customers to believe it was closing its Mitcham branch in London because the lease had expired. In fact, the lease still had three years left to run.
Cost cutting: Banks are keen to close branches and reduce counter services as they are more expensive to run than online services
Ms McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden, says: ‘I am absolutely furious that Barclays would mislead a Member of Parliament and their longstanding, loyal customers in this way.
‘With more than three years left to run on the lease, the decision to leave Mitcham is a slap in the face for my elderly and vulnerable constituents who rely on the accessibility and safety of their local bank branch.’
Another reader, Veronica Hall, says that when her Barclays branch in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, was refurbished, all but one of the counters was replaced with self-service machines.
Customers who wanted a face-to-face service were directed to branches in Cuffley and Barnet High Street.
The branch is now set to close, which Veronica claims was done without consulting the community.
Jes Staley (inset) was forced to resign as Barclays boss on Sunday following an investigation by the financial watchdog
She says: ‘Neither of the other branches is on the doorstep, with Cuffley really inaccessible by bus, so the elderly are now expected to bank online, use an ATM where they feel vulnerable, get public transport, or be able to drive in order to get their money.
‘This is disrespectful to those who rely on these services, and banks should be ashamed of themselves.’
Barclays admits it is ‘increasingly encouraging’ customers to use self-service machines where possible. A spokesman says: ‘These allow branch colleagues to help a greater number of customers more effectively, and to become self-sufficient and feel more confident in managing their money themselves.’
HSBC is also making more of its network counter-less. As part of a major overhaul, it plans to make 40 per cent of its 511 branches self-service. Just one in five, mainly in large cities, will offer ‘full services’.
It adds that this is to help older customers become comfortable with digital skills, reduce waiting times and deal with more queries.
Some 58 branches of Lloyds do not feature a ‘traditional’ counter.
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