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Which? calls for bank branch closures to stop

Written by: Emma Lunn
The consumer group has demanded an immediate pause on bank branch closures to protect access to cash.

Which? is urging banks to prove they can take effective action to stop people losing access to cash and valued bank services – or pause their branch closure plans until the government legislates to protect cash.

The consumer champion’s latest analysis found that the rate of bank branch closures has increased significantly in 2021. It peaked between June and August when 298 branches closed their doors – an average of 99 a month.

This marks a 90% rise on the previous six years when an average of 52 branches were closing each month. In total, Which? revealed there have been 736 bank branch closures 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.

The figures come as UK Finance’s Access to Cash Action Group (CAG) is set to outline measures to address the country’s access to cash crisis, which has been exacerbated by thousands of bank branches and ATMs disappearing in recent years.

However, Which? is concerned the group’s proposals will be undermined by the decisions of individual banks to close branches before solutions to protecting access to cash can take effect.

Which? chief executive Anabel Hoult has written to banks on the CAG warning that the rate of bank branch closures seriously undermines industry efforts to address dwindling cash access. It is calling on banks to pause any programme of branch closures until the group’s proposals are rolled out.

The CAG letter outlines Which?’s expectations that any closures should be subject to greater scrutiny than is currently required.

It says an independent assessment should be made of the impacted community’s cash needs whenever a bank branch is set to close. It also wants to see seamless access to the most appropriate type of provision for those who need it, particularly the elderly and vulnerable.

Which? says that if banks are unable to meet these commitments they should pause their branch closure programmes until they are in a position to do so, or until legislation to protect access to cash has been implemented.

The government first committed to legislation to protect access to cash in March 2020, so Which? is urging for these measures to be introduced quickly.

Anabel Hoult, Which? chief executive, said: “The alarming acceleration of bank branch closures has left many people who depend on them for essential banking services at risk of being cut adrift, which seems to fly in the face of work being done across the industry to protect access to cash.

“While many people can now bank digitally, millions of people are not yet ready or able to do so. Greater scrutiny of branch closures must be in place to ensure that people who rely on cash can access it.

“We are calling on banks to pause any programme of branch closures until proposals to protect access to cash are rolled out. The government must also urgently press ahead with long-promised legislation that guarantees consumers can continue to access cash for as long as it is needed.”

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