Banks are being urged to put an immediate pause on branch closure plans, following an “alarming acceleration”.

Analysis by Which? found there have been 736 bank branch closures this year so far, with another 220 planned to go in 2022.

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Banks are being urged by Which? to put an immediate pause on branch closures, (Matt Crossick/PA)

Closures peaked between June and August this year, with 298 branches closing their doors – equating to an average of 99 branches being shut across the UK per month in that period.

This marks a significant spike compared with an average of 52 branches closing per month during the previous six years.

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Overall, since January 2015, banks and building societies have closed or scheduled the closure of 4,734 branches, Which? researchers found.

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.”

Ms Hoult has written to banks on UK Finance’s Access To Cash Action Group, warning that the rate of bank branch closures seriously undermines industry efforts to address dwindling cash access.

It said whenever a decision to close a bank branch is taken, an independent assessment should be made of the affected community’s cash needs; a summary of this assessment should be made public to ensure transparency and accountability; and seamless access to the most appropriate type of provision should be put in place to ensure there is no gap in availability for those who need it, particularly the elderly and vulnerable.

A banking app
Not everyone can use online or phone banking (PA)

If banks are unable to meet these commitments, Which? believes 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 UK Government committed to legislation to protect access to cash in March 2020.

Which? collected bank branch closure data by tracking announcements and contacted banks to confirm the figures. It said when a bank has refused to do this, it included figures from bank announcements and other sources.

David Postings, chief executive of UK Finance, said: “Ensuring there is continued access for those who need it, both now and in the future, is something the banking and finance industry has already publicly committed to delivering.

“As part of this, the Access To Cash Action Group (CAG) was established earlier this year and it is chaired by Natalie Ceeney and brings together the firms with the largest branch networks, the Post Office, Link, consumer groups and UK Finance.

“The group will shortly be setting out detailed plans for how the industry will deliver on the commitment to preserve access to cash, including the findings from pilot schemes which have been trialling different ways to help people to access cash.

“The work of the CAG has been undertaken at a time when the use of bank branches has continued to fall, with growing numbers of customers choosing to use new technologies to manage their money.

“But technology is not for everyone and the industry absolutely recognises that branches remain an important part of local communities and therefore any decision to close one is never taken lightly.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said banking “is actually a vital public service,” adding: “As such, it has a social responsibility which goes well beyond the current prime concern of making huge profits.”

Here is how branch closures across the UK have added up in 2021 so far, according to Which?:

January – 43

February – 52

March – 98

April – 37

May – 54

June – 98

July – 129

August – 71

September – 73

October – 52

November – 29