One of my friends, who happens to be disabled, today told me about how RBS and NatWest bank are changing some accounts.
In particular, the NatWest Step account (which he has) is being changed so that, as from November 2011, Step-account customers will no longer be able to withdraw cash from rivals’ machines.
The Step account is a basic account, aimed at people with basic, everyday banking needs. As most people might expect, this includes people living on benefits and low incomes.
Needless to say, this means that many Step account customers include the poorest and most vulnerable groups, such as the disabled, elderly and long-term ill.
The planned change means that over 1 million customers could lose out.
In my disabled friend’s case, there is only one ATM in his area that he can use himself due to car parking, location and access. This is not a NatWest or RBS ATM (so much for the Government’s claim that ‘everywhere is accessible these days’).
If the change goes ahead without solution, it will mean he will have to travel 40 miles each and every time he wishes to withdraw some cash from a NatWest ATM he is able use (assuming it’s working and has some cash in it).
This is not something he can afford. He is severely disabled, unable to work, lives on benefits and requires to draw small amounts of cash on a regular basis each week, often more than once a week, as and when benefits are deposited.
He has telephoned NatWest and they have taken his details. They have apparently said that they will be back in touch with him at some point before November, when the change is due to be implemented.
My friend’s major concern is that they have not said exactly when they will be back in touch or what they are going to do to resolve the matter. I find this very surprising, considering how soon we will be in November; it does not seem to be very well researched or organised.
My friend is very concerned that NatWest do not leave it to the last minute to notify him. As he said to me: “What if it goes ahead and I have no options? I don’t want to be left not able to get money out at the last minute. I’ll get behind on bills and it takes me weeks to be able to sort things out. I can’t get out every day and I need my money for food.”
NatWest need to consider this. This is serious. They cannot expect people to possibly suffer or incur debts or charges because they leave it too late in the day before informing customers. People should have at least 4 weeks notice, preferably 8-13 weeks.
For many disabled people, making such changes may simply not be possible on short-notice. Moreover, all people – but especially those with a disability or physical impairment – need extra time to make alternative arrangements.
However, in my mind, forcing disabled people, the elderly or those on low incomes to use ATMs that are further away or harder to get to is simply unacceptable.
My first serious concern here is for my friend. He is very worried about this and the ATM he uses is the only way he can get cash, as he cannot get to the bank branch now; it is far from any car parking and he cannot get from there to the bank.
As with many places, too many people think ‘disabled’ = ‘wheelchair’.
This is a common misunderstanding and one that means that many subsets of disabled people (thousands of people) do not have access to many types of places. The idea that ‘everywhere is accessible these days’ is a joke.
My friend has also told me other disabled people he knows are in the same situation with NatWest – many of which have NOT contacted NatWest.
One might think that one option would be to change or upgrade the account. My friend is unable to upgrade his account because of his credit score. This is partly down to not being able to work. However, when he was no longer able to work in the first place, he lived off his savings until they were exhausted. After having to sell his house and the money from the sale of the house also exhausted, he then had no choice but to claim benefits.
It took over 10 months for his benefits to be sorted and for 4 months, he had no income whatsoever. In that time, he had to rely upon friends and family for food and basic essentials. This meant he got behind on bills and incurred debt and charges. However, once his benefits were sorted, there was not enough money to settle the bills and so he is still paying for those to this day. It was this that caused him financial problems and adversely affected his credit rating, through no fault of his own.
In addition, his income from benefits falls short of his basic, essential and necessary monthly expenses. He also has other expenses on top, as a result of his medical condition, for which he receives no extra benefits or financial help. Some of his benefits have also been cut recently due to the welfare reforms.
This is not that unusual and many people face the situation where their income is far less than their outgoings. For most people, this might necessitate trying to get extra hours at work or perhaps a second part-time job. It might mean trying to take on some form of education or training in order to get a better paid job. It might mean the need for an overdraft, credit card, loan or pay-day loan to manage the shortfall and bills.
For many people, including the elderly, poorest, long-term sick – and for most disabled people who are unable to work, none of these options are available.
As a result, bills and debts just accumulate.
In these times especially, it is irresponsible of banks to impose yet further restrictions, costs and difficulties on those least able to bear them.
I fear the number of affected people who could be adversely affected could be much higher, as NatWest’s figures will only reflect those people who have contacted them.
The obvious secondary concern is the lack of insight on the part of NatWest, followed closely by the discrimination inherent in the changes.
If my friend can no longer use this account, simply as a result of changes NatWest make that do not cater for the disabled, then that is discrimination, as it means the NatWest disabled customer is affected less favourably.
Discrimination is not just about treating disabled people less favourably than others. It’s also about accommodating their additional needs because of disability – because but for the fact they have that disability, they would not have those extra needs or requirements.
The banks proposed changes are also discriminative in policy and spirit towards both disabled people and people on low incomes.
Some simple examples would be people living in villages or small towns that would be forced to travel much further, being forced to spend more just to get their own money.
NatWest’s plan also discriminates against the poorest, as it means they may not be able to afford to get to a cash machine further away – something that would be much less of a problem if you are earning a reasonable wage or salary.
As many disabled people are also amongst the poorest in the country, it is a double-whammy.
It is important to remember, also, that not being able to get cash for someone with a severe disability is more than just an inconvenience; it could cause more serious problems that could affect their health.
So, why the title? Why ‘The Thoughtlessness of Banks’?
I think in the most part, the answer to this is self-evident.
However, I think it has to be asked who, in the banks’ management, came up with this idea for (presumably) internal cost-cutting?
Who actually thought that denying access to ATMs for the most needy and vulnerable was a good idea?
Are to we really to believe that nobody working in management could actually conceive that at least a large subset of the people with the most basic of bank accounts would likely also be the poorest, or with the least ability to use an alternative ATM?
Although the exact number may be guesswork or an assumption, the overall logical conclusion is both obvious and sound. This is not rocket science.
There is one further slap in the face from NatWest: it seems that you would still be able to use you Step account bank card (VISA) at ATMs of rival companies abroad. Yet another gem from NatWest. I wonder how frequently most disabled people on benefits get to use their bank cards abroad? Or those on low incomes, struggling to make ends meet? It is almost as if NatWest forget the demographic their own account was aimed at.
The result from this proposed change is simple: it will transfer the cost of withdrawing monies from bank ATMs from the banks to the most needy and vulnerable customers.
Is this incompetence or a planned assault on those with the least and those that suffer the most already?
It seems that the banks still need a kick up the rear when it comes to responsibility in general – whether they are retail banks or not. We have all seen how the banks have behaved and the economic situation they have helped cause. Yet, it seems they wash their hands of it and try to sweep the past under the carpet. For the most part, the seem to get away with it. Our millionaire PM and politicians do little than shout empty words, whilst the rest of us struggle with the constant onslaught of bills, charges and debt. One has to wonder where it will end? How far will they go? Do they have any real boundaries?
Shamefully, like many people and companies, banks have shown that they behave much differently when they know they have to bear responsibility or risk. However, senior bank management needs to realise that the hazard of morality is to ignore it.
When I think of banks advertising on TV, the first that always seems to come to my mind is NatWest. Their adverts portray a picture that is the antithesis of what we have come to expect from banks. Their ads always seem friendly, upbeat, positive and full of promise. Then there are their famous taglines and slogans. Here’s two of their most popular:-
• “Another Way.”
• “NatWest. Helpful Banking.”
Hmmmnn. “Helpful banking.” ?
Come on then, NatWest – prove it.
There is a great piece on this on the Which? website . You can read this at:
I would also ask the you read the comments left by people on the Which? website (I have added some below but please do have a read of the many other valid points) :-
Why are we, the banks customer (my wife & myself) treated as cattle class. Give us your money but hey lets hold on to it by making it even more difficult to withdraw,is that now the banks attitude.
I bank in the Dorset branch (excellent helpful staff) Last Friday evening I needed cash but the cash machine was out of order and not for the first time. What did I do, go to one of their competitors and withdrew the cash.
CAN NATWEST Gaurantee their machines will operate 24 hours daily in future? I think not.
This move is quite disgraceful. These banks contributed to the financial crisis we are in, our money has bailed them out. But they have no social conscience whatsoever and this move is particularly obnoxious
Oh this is disgraceful – punishing those who can least afford it. My daughter has a basic Nat West A/C, but doesnt live near any Nat West/RBS cash machines. So she will have to use petrol she can ill afford to buy to drive to one of their machines?
This needs campaigning against.
As a disabled person with an RBS basic account, this is disastrous for me. I will have to go to the city centre to withdraw money – no more local spending – and I can’t walk that well or that far. I really don’t have the energy or pain tolerance to walk further than is absolutely necessary, most of the time. Now I’ll need to go to the city centre, to specific cash machines, just to access my money.
If I had a decent credit record, or enough income, I would get a current account but I can’t, and due to past debt am limited to only a few banks. I have no option to change from RBS for this reason, but am going to really struggle when the changes are implemented in October.
Thank you for reading this.
If you would like to help support people on this, please share this blog post and the Which?