Recent changes made to basic bank accounts by major banks could push more people out of the banking system, it is being warned.
It comes as Barclays is making changes to its basic bank account, which will see the maximum daily charge for missing direct debit payments increase three-fold.
Under the new rules, customers could be charged up to £24 instead of the current £8 if three missed payments occur in a day.
The subject of basic bank accounts has been cast into the spotlight in recent weeks as both Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland have been urged to reverse their decisions not to allow their customers to use other banks' cash machines.
The Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee has written to both banks in a bid to change the banks' rulings, but both have stood by their decision.
The developments have led Consumer Focus to warn that these moves could herald a downward trend in accessibility and penalties on basic banking which could discourage the poorest and most vulnerable customers from using bank accounts.
There are currently over a million people in the UK who do not have a bank account, while many others avoid using their accounts fully due to fears abut charges.
Those without a bank account pay more by not being able to use Direct Debit for household bills or access cheaper internet deals, find it difficult to access mainstream credit, insurance or to save effectively and increasingly will find it difficult to be paid for work.
The group said that the recent changes by some of the banks fly in the face of the Government's aim of allowing consumers to take advantage of better deals, for example from paying by Direct Debit for energy.
"Living without a bank account can make it hard to live in the twenty-first century and can create financial penalties for the households who can least afford it," said Oliver Morgans, financial services expert at Consumer Focus.
"The Government already faces an uphill struggle to persuade customers to sign-up to a bank account when many people distrust banks and the charges they make. These changes will make that hill even harder to climb.
"Minimum standards are needed to stop a race to the bottom for the poorest banking customers, and we need to see action from the banks and the regulator to make this happen."
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