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21 Dec 2021

Will your bank pause branch closures?

Find out how your bank responded to our call for branch closures to be paused
A woman withdrawing money from an ATM machine

The UK's largest retail banks have made public commitments to protect access to cash before further branches are closed.

The assurances come after Which? wrote to all the main banks and building societies urging them to pause any future closures until solutions were in place.

Read on to find out what your bank is doing to protect your access to cash.

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On 10 December Which? CEO Anabel Hoult wrote to all the banks which sit on the Access to Cash Action Group (CAG) - set up after pressure from Which? for the industry to develop proposals for how access to cash should be protected in the long term and in lieu of promised legislation.

The letter warned that the rate of bank branch closures 'seriously undermines' industry efforts to address dwindling cash access.

It came as our latest analysis revealed the rate of bank branch closures surged in 2021 with 736 branches shutting their doors this year, and over 220 already lined up for closure in 2022.

Which? also wrote to banks that are not members of the CAG, asking them to provide clarity around the steps they're taking to support customers who are negatively affected by widespread bank closures and to provide detail on their upcoming branch closure programmes.

Find out how your bank responded by clicking the links below.

The Cash Action Group (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, NatWest, Santander, TSB and Danske Bank)

Four days after Which? wrote to banks on Tuesday 14 December, the CAG unveiled a raft of measures to protect access to cash.

Now any community that faces the closures of a core cash service, such as a bank branch or ATM, will trigger an independent review by LINK - the UK's main ATM operator.

LINK will determine whether a new solution should be provided and will have the power to commission services such as a shared banking hub or better Post Office services to meet the cash needs of the community as a whole - not just the customers of one bank or building society.

Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, NatWest, Santander, TSB - members of the CAG and Danske Bank (will become a member of the CAG from 1 January) have agreed to the new approach, and other firms are considering joining too.

Natalie Ceeney, chair of the CAG, responded to Which?'s call to pause closures on behalf of all banks we wrote to which are members of CAG.

She said the new measures announced were a 'significant step' to meeting cash needs.

Banks have committed funding for the new solutions, which so far includes 11 new ATMs and five shared banking services. This follows a review of closures that were announced in 2021 and will be introduced in 2022.

'Bank branches may continue to close - and any decision will remain a matter for the individual bank and their regulator - but new shared services will spring up in their wake,' she added.

She said new services such as cashback without purchase and banking hubs which will support all consumers, rather than just those who bank with one particular brand, have the potential to meet needs even better than existing services

Asked by Which? if the assessments made by LINK would be made public, she said: 'We are finalising the details of the assessment process now, including the appropriate levels of transparency, so it is ready for operation in 2022.'

She added: 'Which?'s support for the access to cash agenda has been a very positive force in keeping this issue on the agenda.'

Find out more:is your local bank branch closing?

The Co-operative Bank

The bank confirmed it did not close any branches this year and had no plans to next year but it would continue to monitor customer behaviour.

It did close 18 branches in 2020 but detailed impact assessments were carried out. The bank works closely with the Post Office to support customers' banking needs.

It welcomed the CAG's proposals and may take part in shared banking services in the future depending on the criteria.

Nick Slape chief executive officer said: 'The continued access to cash for consumers is important to us and we are committed to working with groups such as Which? and the wider financial services sector on how we can best serve and support consumers and small businesses in the community, irrespective of where they bank.'

Coventry Building Society

Coventry Building Society has not offered a current account since 2015 and specialises in mortgage and savings products.

It has undertaken a multi-million-pound investment to transform its branch network since 2018 and has refurbished three-quarters of its stores with the rest due to be complete by summer 2022.

A new branch was opened, several were relocated, and two branches will be closing next year - Earlsdon (Coventry) and Headington (Oxford).

Peter Frost, chief customer officer said: 'We have also fully assessed the potential impacts, including understanding the needs of members using the branches in question, and considered the impact of the proposals on customers and the wider community.'

'When we finish the [refurbishment] programme next year, the Society will have superb branches in the right locations that truly support our colleagues in providing outstanding service and access to cash for our members.'

Cumberland Building Society

Cumberland Building Society emailed Which? to confirm it had no plans for closing any further branches.

Leeds Building Society

The building society said it was aware of the importance access to cash plays within its wider role in supporting long-term savings goals.

As a savings and mortgage provider, it has limited transactional banking facilities but offers members cash and cheque withdrawal and deposit services.

It confirmed it will not be closing any branches in 2022.

Metro Bank

The bank said its stores are a 'huge part' of its culture and brand.

It has opened seven new stores in the past 24 months, including three during the pandemic and a new branch in Leicester is due to open in early 2022.

Daniel Frumkin, chief executive officer at Metro Bank said: 'Every Metro Bank store is located in a large town or city where a number of other banks are present, so it is unlikely that we would be in the position of being 'the last bank in town' in any location'.

'Every store is open early until late, seven days a week, and as well as serving customers our stores offer multiple ATMs plus coin counting machines, host networking and community events, and deliver our free financial education programme to local school kids.'

Skipton Building Society

Skipton Building Society emailed Which? to confirm it had no plans for closing any further branches.

Virgin Money

The bank confirmed it would be closing 31 stores by mid-February next year. It said it would 'continuously monitor customer usage and may make further changes' in the future.

David Duffy, group chief executive of Virgin Money said colleagues in its stores would prioritise speaking to vulnerable customers.

He said impacted customers would be given clear information about the options now available to them including their nearest Virgin Money store and Post Office, as well as options on telephone, internet and mobile banking. Customers will also be told the nearest ATM and Post Office.

Yorkshire Building Society

The building society confirmed it had no plans to make any closures in 2022 and in the past few years has opened face-to-face services in towns and cities where it did not have a presence - and will continue to look for more opportunities.

Stephen White, interim chief executive officer at Yorkshire Building Society said although it is not a member of CAG it will be considering the new scheme to understand how it could inform its future approach.

He said: 'As a mutual, we know the important role our branches and agencies play in their local communities, as well as offering a face-to-face service that many of our members value.'

Yorkshire Building Society does not provide current accounts or business accounts and its savings accounts do not offer ATM functionality.

Which? urges government to launch cash legislation

Which? welcomed the CAG's proposals but will be watching closely over the next six months to see how the measures are working to prevent communities from losing access to cash.

With over 220 bank branch closures already lined up in 2022, LINK has a big job on its hands and we look forward to receiving more information about how it plans to ensure sufficient accountability and transparency.

Which? believes only legislation can secure the future of cash, which the government committed to in March 2020.

However, shortly after the country was forced into lockdown when the coronavirus pandemic struck and some businesses limited the use of cash - damaging an already fragile system.

In July this year, the Treasury finally launched a consultation on how cash legislation could work, including proposals to make the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) the lead regulator for ensuring that people can continue to withdraw cash locally, which includes powers to hold the banking industry accountable if the further decline of the cash network would put access under threat.

This consultation closed in September, however, the findings have not yet been published.

The Treasury told Which? last week it couldn't give us specific timings of when to expect this but said it was considering the responses.