Spain to guarantee rural areas access to financial services

Spain's Economy Minister Nadia Calvino arrives for a Eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman

MADRID, Oct 7 (Reuters) - The Spanish government and banks agreed a roadmap on Friday to guarantee scarcely populated rural villages access to financial services and to soften the impact from rising mortgage costs on the most vulnerable.

Under the plan all villages in Spain with more than 500 inhabitants will have at least one form of financial services outlet, be it a bank branch, ATM or mobile branch.

Banks will be given half a year to enforce those measures, though the deadline may be extended by six months, the economy ministry said.

Granting access to financial services is part of a plan against rural depopulation, which is a major challenge in Spain, the ministry said.

It follows other initiatives by lenders to help elderly people cope with a shift towards online banking.

"In February we took an important step to improve service for our elderly and people with disabilities and now we are taking a second step in rural areas to cover 100% of the population and territory," Economy Minister Nadia Calvino told reporters on Friday.

Villages with fewer than 500 inhabitants will be granted access to cash via rural postmen or alternative solutions, the ministry said. It did not say when the that measure will be introduced.

They come as vulnerable households are struggling to cope with higher interest rates.

Calvino said she would continue to work in "coming weeks" with lenders to help the most vulnerable mortgage holders.

Amending relief measures such as extending the number of families that would be entitled to switch from variable-rate mortgage contracts to fixed rates without additional costs, are among the options, bankers and a government source said.

An industry-wide code of good practice now already allows for the restructuring of mortgage loans and even to cancel the entire outstanding loan.

"We do have to review this catalogue of measures and, if necessary, see what improvements can be included to be able to address this new situation," Calvino said.

Reporting by Jesús Aguado; additional reporting by Emma Pinedo; editing by Inti Landauro and Susan Fenton

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