Banks and broadband providers failing rural communities

14 January 2008 / by Verity G
Those living in rural Britain are being subjected to 'financial isolation' with only one in eight banks or building societies based in the countryside according to an official survey while fewer than five per cent of homes in the countryside have access to over 4 Mb/s broadband width.

The study, entitled 'State of the Countryside report 2007', published by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) has revealed that fewer than ten per cent of the nation's cashpoints are found in country locations.

According to the report, around a fifth of the population lives outside towns and cities in so-called 'financial services deserts’ – areas without a Post Office within 2 km (1.25 miles), or a bank, building society or cashpoint within 4 km (2.5 miles).

The research revealed that nearly 300,000 people in rural areas do not even have a savings account, while more than 22 per cent are actually living below the poverty line and have restricted access to financial services such as banks.

In addition, cash points are few and far between and just under half of those available are free to use, compared to 60 per cent in urban areas. And despite a number of Government and local authority initiatives aimed at improving internet connection for rural households, downstream internet bandwidth of over 4Mb/s is only available to 4.3 per cent of households in villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings compare to 30 per cent of households in urban areas.

Graham Russell, Director of Practice at the CRC, comments: "In terms of access to financial services, no one should be disadvantaged by where they live. We are now calling on the private sector to engage more extensively with rural communities and support and encourage future initiatives and the Government to help promote the value of community-based initiatives.

"We are also calling on communities themselves to come forward with examples of successful locally-developed solutions so these can be shared more widely."

However, those who feel they are being neglected by their banks need not worry. The number of people choosing to use internet banking has been rising steadily with the latest figures from APACS showing that there are currently 15.7 million people who regularly use the internet to access their current, savings and credit card accounts.

The report backs a new campaign by the CRC launched yesterday which aims to improve access to and increase the number of financial services for people living in rural areas. Already, the British Bankers' Association has promised to develop plans for better financial services in rural areas, such as mobile banks and more cash dispensers.

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