Which? calls for pause on bank branch closures

Which? has called for an “immediate” pause on bank branch closures to protect access to cash.

It said that new analysis raises concerns that banks may be rushing to close branches before solutions to protecting access to cash can take effect.

The consumer organisation has urged banks to prove they can take effective action to stop people losing access to cash and bank services without “adequate alternatives” ready to put in place, or alternatively pause their branch closure plans until the government legislates to protect cash.

The Which? study reveals that the rate of bank branch closures peaked between June and August this year, when 298 branches were closed, an average of 99 every month.

This represents a 90 per cent rise on the previous six years when an average of 52 branches were closing per month.

In total, Which? revealed there have been 736 bank branch closures this year, with a further 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 are published as trade association UK Finance’s Access to Cash Action Group (CAG) is set to outline measures to address the country’s access to cash crisis.

But Which? said it 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 decreasing cash access, and is calling on banks to pause any programme of branch closures until the group’s proposals are rolled out.

“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,” said Anabel Hoult, Which? chief executive. “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.”

Hoult added: “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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