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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

MPs Lash Out After Council Tries To Scrap The Chequebook

MPs are looking to curb the influence of the Payments Council following the recent dispute over the replacement of cheques.

A Treasury select committee report out today called for the "unfettered power" of the banking industry body to be cut back and safeguards to be put in place to ensure banks could not abandon cheques by "stealth".

Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the committee, branded the organisation lacking in "effective public accountability" and called for greater consumer representation.

"Cheques have been saved, for the moment, but we need to remain vigilant. The incentives for the industry to get rid of cheques has not gone away. Neither have we," he said.

"That is why we are making far–reaching recommendations about the future of the Payments Council as well as to secure the future of cheques."

The Payments Council had planned to replace cheques by 2018, however it had to backtrack on the plans following a surge of public pressure amidst fears of the effect on the elderly and vulnerable for whom cheques are a preferred method of payment.

Under the recommendations of the Treasury committee the Payments Council could be brought formally within the system of financial regulation.

They could also be required to obtain a commitment from banks to give them advance sight of any material related to the future availability of cheques.

Banks themselves could be obligated to write to customers stating that cheques will continue to be in use for the foreseeable future in an attempt to allay customers' fears.

Mr Tyrie said: "Banks have given many customers the impression that the abolition of cheques was a foregone conclusion. This type of behaviour is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue."

The committee has also suggested that banks consider the reintroduction of the cheque guarantee card.

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's charity director, welcomed the potential return of the cheque guarantee card and called it an opportunity for banks and building societies to "live up to their word" and prove the future of cheques is safe.

She added: "Whatever happens, the banking industry must be clear about what it is going to do to ensure that cheques remain a widely accepted, safe and accessible option for those who rely on them.

"Cheques and other payment systems are essential services upon which the public relies – just like the provision of water and electricity.

"Their future must not be left solely to the banking industry and its representative bodies to determine."

Chris Leslie, Labour's shadow Treasury minister, welcomed the "very sensible" report from the committee.

He continued: "If the government don’t act I will be seeking amendments to the forthcoming Financial Services Regulation Bill to make sure that the needs of consumers - for instance, retaining the convenience of the cheque - are strengthened."

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