Money Mail has been fighting for years to keep banks open so that customers can personally manage their money.
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. Some banks are encouraging customers to use self-service machines, even when branches are still open.
Barclays, the banking giant, is now accused of quietly introducing new rules restricting transactions that can be made at the counter.
No service: Barclays, the banking giant, has been accused of quietly introducing new rules that limit transactions that can be done 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 were told to tell customers to use self-service machines.
Barclays counters also offer a reduced service. They are open between 9.30am to 2pm or 3.30pm.
Experts claim that the bank tried to force customers to use online banking so it could close more branches.
According to lobby group Which?1,035 branches have been closed by major High Street banks since March 2020 when the pandemic led to the first lockdown.
It said that this is nearly three times the number of branches that were closed in the previous year. Barclays owned more than one fourth of all branches that were shut down.
Eleni Georgiou (pictured) was told any transactions under £300 had to be done using a self-service machine
Last month, Lloyds Banking Group announced that it would close 48 more locations in the next year. This is after having closed 56 earlier in the year.
Jane Dough (72), a resident of Weybridge in Surrey, visited her local Barclays branch this month to amend a Standing Order and make a cash withdraw.
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 because an error had been made the previous time. But the cashier insisted on taking Jane 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 when Labour MP Siobhain McCDonagh, a member on the Treasury Select Committee revealed that customers were misled into believing it was closing the Mitcham branch in London due to the expiration of its lease. The lease had three years remaining.
Cost cutting: Banks are keen on closing branches and reducing counter services because they are more expensive 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.’
Veronica Hall, another reader, stated that when her Barclays branch was renovated in Potters Bar (Hertfordshire), all but one of the counters were replaced with self-service machines.
Customers who required face-to-face services were directed to the branches in Cuffley, Barnet High Street.
Veronica claims the branch will close soon.
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 increasing the counter-less network. It plans to make 40% of its 511 branches self service as part of a major overhaul. Just one in five, mainly in large cities, will offer ‘full services’.
It states that this is to make it easier for older customers to use digital skills, reduce waiting time and handle more questions.
Some 58 branches of Lloyds do not feature a ‘traditional’ counter.