HSBC says it will end its Welsh language customer service phone line due to a decline in usage. The service will end on January 15, 2024.

The decision has been condemned by a Welsh language campaign group and criticised by Senedd members. Cymdeithas yr Iaith called for new legislation to force companies to maintain Welsh language services.

In a letter sent to MSs, Oliemata O’Donoghue, managing director of wealth and personal banking at HSBC UK, said the decision has "not been taken lightly". "We strive to tailor our services to meet our customers’ needs, and after an in-depth review of our Welsh speaking customer service phone line, we have found this line is no longer being fully utilised. We have seen a steady decline in usage – we receive 22 calls into the line each day, compared to 18,000 into our English-speaking lines, and 73% of service users only call once or twice a year".

She said after January 15, 2024, customers will have to engage in English. "We recognise that for some customers, banking in Welsh is still their preference, so we can arrange a call-back in Welsh, within three working days, to help with any questions they may have. Whilst we understand it is not their first choice, we have confirmed that all customers are able to bank in English".

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"We would like to reassure you that all the other Welsh services we offer will remain in place, including Welsh speaking colleagues in half of our Welsh branches, responding to Welsh customer correspondence in Welsh, and some of our branches in Wales offering a full translation service."

Siân Howys, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Welsh Language Rights Group, said: "This decision is extremely disappointing, but instead of only complaining about it or asking for an explanation, the Welsh Government should ensure that banks and other bodies in the private sector such as supermarkets have a legal duty to use Welsh and offer a Welsh service of the same status and quality as their English service.

"Many of our members are currently facing being penalized as part of the campaign against private car park companies who refuse to use Welsh on signs and pay machines . There are many more examples on the high street and in day to day life where Welsh is not available and cannot be used. The 2011 Welsh Language Measure is outdated and is no longer effective enough. HSBC's decision to end its Welsh language telephone service is further proof that stronger legislation is needed to protect and promote our rights."

Welsh Conservative Shadow Welsh Language Minister, Samuel Kurtz MS said the suggestions from HSBC were a "token gesture". "The offer of a 'call back' service, which could take up to three days, for those wanting to use the Welsh language is a bit of a token gesture from a bank which at one time claimed to be the 'the world's local bank'. For a bank operating globally in a number of languages, I strongly urge HSBC to reconsider their decision and to keep Welsh-language provision available for customers as and when they need it."

Plaid Cymru has contacted the Welsh Language Commissioner, and requested an urgent meeting with HSBC in Westminster. Plaid Cymru MS and Westminster culture spokesman Ben Lake MP, said: "HSBC's decision to axe their Welsh language telephone service is a huge disappointment. The service, for many of their customers, is a vital resource." For the latest politics news in Wales sign up to our newsletter here.

Their statement said the bank has not done enough to promote its Welsh language phone service. “This is a big blow to their customers in Wales especially their older customers, and those who don't have access to digital technology. The bank's pledge to 'arrange a call back in Welsh, within three working days' is not only insensitive to the financial pressures some people will face, this is dangerous. For many, accessing their bank through Welsh is not a 'choice'. They say they 'have confirmed that all customers can bank in English.' This is not true. HSBC now needs to reverse this decision, and move towards promoting Welsh-medium services," it continued.