The successful renewal of the UK’s interbank payments infrastructure will benefit people and businesses but risks to its successful delivery need to be reduced. 

The Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) has decided that Pay.UK should phase the development of the UK’s New Payments Architecture (NPA) by narrowing the scope of the NPA central infrastructure services (CIS) contract. Pay.UK must secure this contract through a competitive tender. The regulator is also consulting on the draft legal instruments it plans to give to implement its decisions. 

The NPA is the payment industry’s proposed way of organising the clearing and settlement of most interbank payments in the future, including those that currently use Bacs and Faster Payments. Interbank payments, payments made from one bank account to another, are essential to the day-to-day lives of millions and the functioning of the UK’s economy. 

Chris Hemsley, the PSR’s managing director, said: 

‘We want the UK’s interbank payment systems to serve the diverse and evolving needs of everyone who uses them for many years to come.  

‘The NPA is a great opportunity to meet growing demand for digital payments, bolster resilience and boost competition. It will help deliver improved services that benefit people and businesses throughout the UK, like better payment tracking and the ability to send more information with payments. 

‘The decisions we set out today will help lower risks to the delivery of the NPA by simplifying the programme. This will make it easier for Pay.UK to secure a contract that provides value for money and enables some NPA benefits to be realised sooner.’ 

Pay.UK, the operator of Bacs and Faster Payments, is responsible for delivering the NPA. This includes procuring NPA CIS.  

Earlier this year, the PSR reached the view that there are unacceptably high risks that the NPA programme being operated by Pay.UK will not provide value for money and could delay or prevent the delivery of the benefits of the NPA. 

These risks prompted the PSR to consult in February on requiring Pay.UK to phase the development of the NPA by narrowing the scope of the CIS contract. The PSR also asked for views on the approach to the procurement.  

Having considered the responses, the PSR will require Pay.UK to narrow the scope of the CIS contract by mandating that Pay.UK: 

  • must, as a minimum, buy services needed to support single-push payments (which will allow most Faster Payments transactions to migrate to the NPA)
  • may buy additional services and system functionality only if the PSR does not object (which will include taking account of the adequacy of Pay.UK’s consultation with industry on its proposals) 

The obligation on Pay.UK to carry out a competitive procurement will remain. Pay.UK can discharge this obligation by continuing the current competitive procurement or starting a new one. 

To implement these decisions, the PSR intends to vary Specific Directions (SDs) 2 and 3. These require Pay.UK to run a competitive procurement for the contract to supply central infrastructure for Bacs and Faster Payments respectively.  

The regulator will consult until 10 September 2021 on the changes it proposes to make to SDs 2 and 3 to implement its decisions. Having considered views, the PSR plans to give the directions to vary SDs 2 and 3 later this year.  

In addition, the PSR plans to publish a separate policy statement by the end of this year that sets out its regulatory framework for the NPA, informed by feedback following its consultation on mitigating risks to competition and innovation relating to when the NPA is operational.