/ Money

Banks respond to our calls on branch closures

While responses from banks to our calls on bank branch closures represent a huge step forward, more needs to be done to secure the future of cash.

Earlier this month, our Chief Executive Anabel Hoult wrote to banks and building societies who are members of UK Finance’s Cash Action Group (CAG) asking them to commit to a pause on bank branch closures until alternative ways of accessing cash could be provided to communities impacted. 

In Anabel’s letter, she outlined concerns that any solutions announced and implemented by the Group to protect people’s ability to withdraw and deposit cash would be undermined by decisions taken by individual banks to progress with branch closure programmes. This followed from new analysis that found the rate of branch closures had increased significantly over the past year. 

Shockingly, we found a whopping 298 bank branches closed between June and August – an average of 99 per month, which is far above the 52 closures that have taken place per month in the previous six years, representing a 90% rise. Overall, 736 bank branches shut their doors this year, with another 220 already set to close in 2022. Since January 2015, banks and building societies have closed or scheduled the closure of 4,734 branches.

Win! How banks responded

We’ve now heard back from all the banks we wrote to, including Natalie Ceeney, Chair of the CAG, who responded to us on behalf of the Group. 

In her response, she confirmed the proposals agreed by members, announced last Wednesday, would be delivered to communities immediately and ahead of upcoming branch closures, and that in communities where bank branch closures have taken place over the last year, impact assessments have already been carried out by the Group, and solutions to enable access to cash delivered. 

These proposals will see LINK (the UK’s main ATM operator) tasked with conducting an independent review of every proposed bank branch and ATM closure, with the power to fill any gaps in cash provision to meet the community’s cash needs, by deploying a range of shared services funded by members such as ATMs, shared banking hubs, and enhanced Post Office services. Communities will also be able to request a review of their community’s cash needs by summer 2022.

Find out if your area will be receiving support here

Which? also wrote to banks that are not members of the CAG, asking them to provide detail on their upcoming branch closure programmes. The majority have since confirmed they will not be closing any further bank branches in 2022.

Find out what your bank said here.

Is this enough?

This reassurance from members of the CAG, coupled with the proposals announced by the Group last week, represents a huge step forward in the fight to protect cash.

However, while we’re hopeful that the services delivered by the Group will provide tangible support to communities at risk of losing access to cash, it is clearly important that the body is held to account for its commitments.

We feel strongly that the CAG solutions must provide sufficient access to cash when a bank branch or ATM closes, and the Impact Assessments undertaken ahead of closures must assess the full range of needs in a given area, giving everyone the opportunity to feedback, including vulnerable residents and those most likely to depend on cash. 

We intend to keep a close eye on how the CAG’s proposals work in practice, to make sure they deliver for consumers on the ground. But we also want your help, by telling us how the CAG is delivering for you in your areas, if you are one of the communities affected, or if you’re struggling to access cash, but haven’t received any support.

Legislation is urgently needed

While efforts from industry to support those of their customers who rely on cash are positive, and necessary – these voluntary initiatives do not negate the need for government action. Not least given that the Group does not represent the whole of the industry and firms outside of the group may continue to make decisions that could detrimentally impact local access to cash without any proposed alternative provisions to be put in place. 

Legislation promised by the Chancellor in March 2020 is still urgently needed, to give the proposals announced by the CAG the necessary level of regulatory oversight and to secure the long-term future of cash for those who depend on it – and we will be continuing to fight for this legislation in the New Year. 

Let us know in the comments if you’re worried your local community is at risk of losing access to cash?

Comments

I live on the Isle of Mull (Argyll & Bute, Scotland). The nearest bank on Mull is (and always has been) 60 miles away. It’s not my bank, that’s in Oban, thirty five miles plus a ferry ride away. Fortunately I can do most things on line (despite being 81) and if I really need cash I can get it at a local PO (1.5miles and 5 miles). Perhaps I’m lucky.

Why are they closing banks, ATM’s and doing away with money ?

When they only deal in plastic cards, they know how much you spend and where you spend it, then target you accordingly, just like Amazon.

I would not mind if all the drug dealers, tax evaders, and off shore banks are stopped, but will never happen in the UK, the rich and powerful are too corrupt to police themselves.

Are other countries doing the same ?

You make a very good point Charlie. The banks evidently know more about you than they purport to know about the scammers.

Pamela Murgatroyd says:
10 February 2022

Oh how true .Banks are needed and ATM because one needs money Window cleaners , Gardeners , Helpers of all discription Carers .

A local branch of my bank closed last year although there is one within 2 miles or so. I rarely use cash these days but have an ATM in the Tesco’s local just round the corner as well as a post office just across the road. I would use these in preference in going to the bank anyway. The only issue relates to paying in cheques which I could do at the Post office if they still had paying in slips in the back of cheque books.

You should be able to order paying-in slips using online banking or by phone. If you use your bank’s phone app you may be able to upload an image. No-one gives me cheques any more so I have yet to try paying in this way.

Not many banks support paying in cheques by image as yet. So I opened a Starling Bank account, just so I could pay in cheques from DVLA and HMRC. Annoying that I should have to do this!

This site has a list published in 2021 that might be useful as a guide: https://becleverwithyourcash.com/how-to-pay-in-a-cheque-with-your-phone/ It’s obviously possible to post cheques to your bank – but nowadays you should make sure that the branch still exists.

You can pay-in cheques at a Post Office but only if you have a printed paying-in slip. Knowing the name of the payee, account number and sort code is not enough, though I have used blank paying-in slips at several banks and they used to be a familiar sight in branches.

I have just received a letter from Natwest and guessed that it would be about closure of my branch, which is in the city where I used to live, albeit well out of the centre. It seems that prior to closure in June, my account will be transferred to the city centre branch and not to the one in the nearby town, which is much nearer and more convenient. I hope that one is not going to close too. The Which? checker does not show either bank as closing.

You can, presumably, operate your account from any branch you choose. Maybe there is another bank in a convenient location where you could open a second account? Nationwide comes out well repeatedly in Which? assessments.

Why do Which? promote banks without branches; the top three recommended by them are such.

I’ve been using the large Natwest branch in town, Malcolm. Like many people I never transferred my account when I moved home. I had a prompt call-back to say that I had not been transferred to the city centre branch by mistake but that is what they are doing when branches close.

Although the main banks and several building societies have branches in town, Nationwide is not there. It’s now two years since I more or less stopped using cash except for dealing with charity donations and the odd parking meter but bank branches (not just mine) have proved very useful on occasions.

Patricia Johnston says:
10 February 2022

Yes I believe cash should be more readily available to everyone. Not only because many rely on it for day to day needs but also because if the computer systems go down, which they have done many times in the past, how else do you pay for your goods (groceries, etc.,)

I am not too worried about the closure of bank branches. Once upon a time they offered a good range of financial services and personal advice. When it got to the stage that my local HSBC branch was unable to confirm my identity for a maturing insurance policy, I gave up on them. I had banked with them for over 50 years, worked for them for 25 and had actually worked with some of the then current staff, but they had been turned into automatons (I call them “thickbots”) by the bank, with little authority to do anything. So when the branch closed soon after it was no great loss. On the other hand cash withdrawal facilities are essential. Fortunately the local post office and supermarkets all offer (still) fee-free withdrawals, but I hear that some areas have no alternatives to shut-down bank branches. Many folk are justifiably nervous about banking through their mobile phones, which are prone to power loss, frauduent access, theft or breakage. I would never have a bank app on my mobile. But perhaps it is too late to hope for any re-opening of bank branches with proper (non thickbot) staff.

Leslie says:
10 February 2022

It’s all about control and profit. While the social and care aspect is not legislated for, then banks and corporations will do what ever it requires, to manipulate and control, to increase wealth for those that are already (relatively) wealthy. It’s why the state needs to be involved to protect those minorities that have a need.

CAROL TAPP says:
10 February 2022

Lloyds closed its doors on Tuesday of this week. Now we have no bank whatsoever in Darwen, Lancashire. Lloyds is surrounded by over sixty over 55’s sheltered housing flats. Many residents wouldn’t know how to switch a computer on! Their excuse is ‘lack of footfall’. I went in on Monday and there was a long queue waiting to be served and only one cashier. The cash machine outside the bank is also about to close and the nearest machine is the Post Office – about a mile away. No consideration whatsoever for the elderly and disabled in an already deprived area of the UK.

Dr Kate Whelan says:
10 February 2022

We live in a village of 5,000 people, doubled in 30 years, between Leeds and Harrogate.
Cash is available from our PO/Go Local shop, and free from an ATM machine at the Shell garage.
Our nearest town Otley, a “historic market town” is three miles away. It has two large supermarkets with free ATMs. Of 7 banks, only 1, Halifax, remains. Our nearest branch, still open, was 4 miles away when our bank closed. That too is closed now. Available branches are in Harrogate and Bradford, 9 and 11 miles respectively

I live in the Isles of Scilly (the blue dot on your interactive map at the toe of Cornwall) We had branches of both Lloyds and Barclays. Barclays closed some three years ago and Lloyds, who operate the only ATM will close in the spring. Our nearest branch of either is Penzance 30+ miles away. In the winter months these can only be accessed by air, a return trip costing nearly £200. In the summer a cheaper trip is possible by boat, but entails an overnight stop, the ship leaves Scilly in late afternoon and returns the next day. Its almost as expensive! We are a tourist destination and will be without an ATM.
The small sub post office does the best it can (which is very good), but it is not fair that it is left to cope, there is often a long line waiting to use the existing ATM. This will inevitably mean that for those who wish to use the postal service will be delayed.
I feel we are betrayed by the banks, who, in forcing us to use cards more, learn so much about us.

Perhaps a few local entrepreneurs should try to set up an Isles of Scilly bank to service the resident population and holidaymakers. In such a small geographically-defined territory the same money could be recirculated exclusively within the community. I would expect more money to come in [from tourists] than goes out so it could be a self-sustaining operation and actually make a surplus.

A Lovell-Wood says:
11 February 2022

The Banks in general only have one thing on their mind and that is how can we generate more profit so that we can pay extortionate salaries to the Directors, many of whom do not attend the office everyday as they have other jobs as well.
To achieve this they keep closing branches and removing ATMs, and thus putting staff out of a job. Providing a service to customers is no longer at the top of their list of priorities. The banking hours of one branch near by are now so short it is difficult to get to them when open.
In many towns you will find one of the banks is in a building with a particularly large banking hall which would allow, with some thought, several banks to share the space. I believe this is now being trialled, but why has it taken them so long to come up with this as a way of keeping the service available in those communities.
Because more and more transactions are being done on line they also want to get rid of cash. They want cash gone because they make substantially more profit, because every card transaction brings them in another bank charge, and also because they do not have to pay to move the cash around the country. Ask your local shops how much more they are paying in bank charges these days compared to even 5 years ago.
If cash goes so also will many charities who rely on cash collections in what ever form for income. They must assume charities can always use card readers to generate income. Street Carnivals can not use card readers and nor can a garden fete have a card reader on every stall.
Personally I always try to pay in cash for any transaction under £10 in order to save the business that bank charge, which for a really small value transaction could be all the profit.

It’s not just closures and ATM removals. Our nearest HSBC in Trowbridge, Wiltshire (the next town to us) is still only open 09:30 – 15:00 Monday – Friday and not open on a Saturday. It’s impossible to deposit cheques or cash if you work or, (in the case of my kids), if you are at still at school.

Those seem fairly typical banking hours for many, and were certainly the case when I startd with bank accounts. Basic banking, such as you describe, can be carried out in post offices where almost all banks have made arrangements. POs usually have more useful opening hours, including Saturdays.

Simon — The banks are so enamoured of their wonderful on-line banking facilities that they don’t appreciate that many people are not comfortable giving their bank details to others to enable them to make payments on-line instead of by cheque.

It is easy and possible, but not 100% reliable, to post a cheque in to your bank branch but, obviously, one wouldn’t post cash and many banks don’t have a letter box for use outside banking hours. Waiting for a day off work or a school holiday might not be convenient.

It’s a pity that one of the other banks in Trowbridge with longer opening hours cannot accept and process cheques for your bank but there would no doubt be a clearing delay.

‘Town clearing’ used to be the mechanism for all the banks in a town to exchange payments and receipts among themselves; I should have thought a digital version of that could be devised so that the physical bits of paper do not have to be carried round the town by messengers.

Hi Simon – If you use online banking you can deposit cheques using the phone app: https://www.hsbc.co.uk/ways-to-bank/mobile/cheque-deposit/

Of the 70% local closures, my local Barclays tops the list but its remaining, Twickenham, branch also has limited ATM access to the shortened branch opening hours, no good at night.
The last excuse?, fraudsters keep putting devices on them, so a “police” recommendation, they are 100 metres away. 🙁

Our local branch of Barclay s closed last year leaving the elderly like myself in a quandary I like many other moved to Lloyds bank. Now our local Post office is closing. Leaving only Lloyds for a growing population in our area1000 new homes have been erected in the last 2 years.One cash machine to serve our growing population most times it runs out of cash or is broken . It seems that Banks no longer cater for the elderly and we are just a burden. Vast majority can not understand Internet banking and prefer “cash in hand” to balance our spending.

Steve says:
5 April 2022

Hi, this campaign for access to cash is important but there is also the other side as well “access to spend it”. Far too many retail outlets are only taking card payments (especially hospitality businesses like pubs and cafes).

The current petition is “Freedom to pay our way” but it mention nothing about ensuring retail establishments having to accept cash.

There is a petition to address this to ensure retail outlets have to accept cash (within reason, not thousands of pounds): https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/605030

I think this needs to be merged with yours somehow, or extend yours to cover both access to get cash and freedom to then spend it.