Around 1,500 bank branches are still only open part-time more than a year after the pandemic started.
Most banks restricted branch services when Covid hit in March last year, with many closing altogether.
The move caused long queues down high streets around the country, while many customers complained they had been turned away at the door because their visit was not deemed ‘essential’.
Most banks restricted branch services when Covid hit in March last year causing long queues down high streets around the country
Yet 14 months on, and with lockdown restrictions easing, many of Britain’s biggest banks are still to resume a full service.
It means that of the estimated 5,556 branches in Britain, about 1,479 — or one in four — are only open part-time.
A further 529 branches have shut up shop entirely since the start of the pandemic — roughly nine a week, according to consumer group Which?. And another 286 are scheduled to close over the rest of the year.
Critics say that continuing to limit opening hours and branch services is ‘unacceptable’ and putting extra pressure on helplines already experiencing long call waiting times.
Customers accuse banks of using lockdowns as an excuse to force them online.
Freelance writer and events planner Abby Knight, 55, has banked with HSBC in Billericay, Essex, for more than 20 years.
674 towns with 1 bank
There are now 674 towns in Britain with just one bank left.
And almost nine in ten do not have another bank branch within 1km, according to research seen by Money Mail.
Many will have a Post Office for basic transactions, but services are limited.
And experts say it is inevitable customers will face yet more closures in the future.
Natalie Ceeney, chair of the Access To Cash Review, says: ‘There are over five million people who rely on cash, and face-to-face services.
‘Without access to face-to-face services and free-to-use cash access they face serious difficulties and costs in just living their lives.’
‘It’s sadly inevitable that we’ll see more bank branch closures, but we can’t just shrug our shoulders and accept it. We need a long-term solution.’
She says before the pandemic she noticed cashier services being replaced by machines, and now her branch is only open between 10am and 2pm.
Every time she visits she says there are at least ten people in front of her. Many are elderly and often have to wait in the rain as only a certain number are allowed inside at a time.
Abby says: ‘I like to be able to go into the bank and I do not think they should be using lockdowns to scale back their services and force us all online.’
HSBC told Money Mail that not a single one of its 588 branches had returned to normal opening hours.
Of these, 327 are open between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday and the remaining 261 are open for just four hours between 10am and 2pm during the week.
Before Covid the majority of branches were open either between 9.30am and 4.30pm or 9am and 5pm.
Face-to-face appointments have also been stopped. But HSBC says customers may still be able to speak to someone to help with a bereavement or mortgage application. Call waiting times are still more than 20 minutes.
The bank did not say when branch hours and services would return to normal, only that the matter was ‘under review’.
It says it is rare for the Billericay branch to have a queue, especially one as long as ten people, but says its staff are conscious of social distancing and only four customers are allowed in at a time.
Money Mail reader John Russell, 67, visits his local HSBC branch in Norwich each Friday to withdraw cash.
But he always has to wait outside in a queue of customers because the branch is still only open between 10am and 4pm during the week — which he says ‘is no good to anyone’.
John, a former civil servant, says: ‘Norwich is a big city and everything else seems to have gone back to normal — bar one bank. I have no idea why, but it seems completely stupid.’
An HSBC spokesman says its focus has been keeping as many branches open as possible rather than fewer sites with longer hours.
He adds that with some staff shielding the bank has needed to resource branches accordingly. About two-thirds of Barclays’ 859 branches now shut before 4pm, with some closing at 2pm.
Prior to Covid the majority were open between 9am and 5pm.
Covid closures: HSBC admitted that not a single one of its 588 branches had returned to normal opening hours
Customers registering a bereavement or seeking financial support can get the help they need in branch, but customers are encouraged to make an appointment first. Other services, such as mortgage appointments, are done over the phone or online.
Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, refused to say how many of its 1,568 branches had resumed normal hours. Instead it says ‘many’ branches are now open on Saturdays, while larger branches, with greater footfall, are open from 9am to 5pm. A spokesman adds that its branch hours are tailored according to local usage and customer demand.
There really is no excuse for banks not to be returning to offering the services and opening hours they were before the pandemic. Bank branches offer essential services and the queues outside my local branch are unacceptable.
Roughly half of Nationwide’s 650 branches close at 4.30pm during the week, while the remainder are only open between 9am and 2pm or 3pm.
On Saturdays, opening hours are 9am to 12pm or 1pm. Before the pandemic, branches were open from 9am to 4pm or 5pm. The building society is also still not offering appointments in branches.
A spokesman says: ‘Current opening hours are based on a range of factors such as local needs, as well as the size and location of the branch. We will continue to review these hours as we emerge from lockdown to ensure we have the right resources in the right places.’
Martyn James, from complaints website Resolver, says: ‘There really is no excuse for banks not to be returning to offering the services and opening hours they were before the pandemic. Bank branches offer essential services and the queues outside my local branch are unacceptable.’
Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, says: ‘Branch networks have continued to shrink in the last year despite the Financial Conduct Authority asking firms to reconsider closures, so it’s crucial that banks provide their customers with reasonable access to banking services.’
Yet some banks have been able to resume an almost normal service again.
As of Monday, Metro Bank’s 77 branches went back to their usual opening hours of between 8.30am and 6pm six days a week, and 11am to 5pm on Sundays.
Santander’s 564-strong network is also now back to normal hours of 9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Those that offer services on a Saturday are open between 9.30am and 12.30pm or 9.30am to 4pm.
As of last week, most of TSB’s 330 branches have resumed normal opening hours of 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Up until earlier this year weekdays had been reduced to between 9am and 2pm.
All of NatWest Group’s 844 branches are open as usual from between 9.30am and 4.30pm during the week.
A spokesman says the same branch services are available as before the pandemic, as well as phone and video appointments.
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