Thursday 8 October 2020 3:26 pm

Staff at British banks ‘forced to turn off NHS Covid tracing app at work’

Branch staff at some of the UK’s biggest banks say they are being put at risk by rules that require them to keep their phones in lockers at work, leaving them unable to use the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app. 

Lloyds and TSB are among the lenders advising employees in branch to deactivate the contact tracing app during office hours, when staff are not allowed to keep their phones on their person. 

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The BTU union, which represents Lloyds staff but is not recognised by the lender, said it had been contacted by dozens of the bank’s staff unable to use the NHS app at work.

“I live and work in a high-risk area so I am very concerned at being told that while I’m at work I have to suspend the NHS test and trace app… This defeats the object of track and trace,” one anonymous Lloyds employee told the union. 

Another staff member said they were at risk of catching the virus due to “blatant transgression of the social distancing rules by many customers”.

Some banks ask cashiers and other branch staff to store phones away during working hours to avoid leaks of sensitive customer data, although the financial regulator does not formally require this. 

Under current coronavirus guidelines from the government, users of the NHS app are advised to either pause the app or deactivate bluetooth when their phone is not on their person to avoid false notifications. 

Both Lloyds and TSB have advised staff to pause the app’s contact tracing function while they are at work, Reuters reported, citing internal guidance issued by the banks. 

“Colleagues who have downloaded the app to their own smart phone should not use the app while you are at work,” Lloyds told staff in the guidance. 

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We want as many people to download and use the app as possible. It is important to use the NHS Covid-19 app at all times, including while at work, unless in specific scenarios which are clearly set out in our guidance.”

“We’re fully complying with all public health guidance and advising our colleagues in line with best practice,” a TSB spokesperson said. City A.M. has reached out to Lloyds for comment. 

A Natwest spokesperson said the lender encouraged staff to use the app but said they should pause it when they are not with their phone. The bank discourages, but does not ban, the use of mobile phones in branches and contact centers.

A spokesperson for Barclays said the lender had not advised staff to turn off the app.

“We know that in normal circumstances people will put their phones away, but obviously we’re not in normal circumstances now and the track and trace is there for a reason,” BTU general secretary Mark Brown told City A.M.

“There are a lot of staff who don’t sit behind perspex screens all day. They’re out in front, dealing with customers,” he continued. “Lots of customers wear face coverings but some don’t. Of course some don’t legitimately, but others just don’t follow the rules.”

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Another banking union, Accord, said that rules preventing branch staff from using their phones were designed to protect them from security risks. 

“If customers care about the health and well-being of the bank staff they rely on, they could help by wearing face coverings when visiting bank branches,” Accord’s General Secretary Ged Nichols said.