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Which? calls for banks to pause branch closures

Which? calls for banks to pause branch closures

UK banks shut 736 branches this year, according to consumer group Which?, which is calling on lenders to pause further closures.

For several years, banks have been steadily cutting the size of their branch networks as customers migrate to digital channels. Over half of Brits now use mobile banking.

The trend has accelerated during the pandemic, with 736 branches shut in 2021 - a 17% rise compared to the rate in the previous six years.

With 220 closures already lined up for next year, Which? says that it is concerned that lenders may be rushing to shut branches before measures are put in place to ensure customers have access to cash.

Which? is not alone in its concern about branch closures and access to cash; the government, FCA and Bank of England have all spoken out about the issue in the last two years.

Last year, the government committed to legislating to protect access to cash for as long as people need it, after warnings that the system could collapse within two years. The treasury launched a consultation this summer but, although this has concluded, the findings have yet to be published.

Meanwhile, with branch closures continuing, industry-run UK Finance has set up its own Access to Cash Action Group (CAG), which is set to outline measures to address the issue.

But, Which? is concerned that the group’s proposals will be undermined by the decisions of individual banks to close branches before solutions can take effect. Which? CEO Anabel Hoult has written to banks that sit on the CAG warning that the rate of bank branch closures ‘seriously undermines’ industry efforts to address dwindling cash access.

Which? says that whenever a branch is slated for closure there should be an independent assessment on the impact on the community's cash needs, which should be made public and acted on.

If access to cash cannot be ensured, banks should pause closures until it can or legislation is rolled out, says the group.

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