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When will the bank branch opening hours go back to normal?

Shops may be open and high streets busier, but half of Britain’s biggest banks are still only opening their branches for as little as four hours a day.

Business and personal banking customers have reported queues around the corner as they cram trips to the bank into shorter periods of time.

But despite the country’s third and potentially final lockdown easing, many of the biggest high street banks, including Barclays, HSBC and Nationwide Building Society, have yet to return to 9am to 5pm.

Customers queuing outside a Santander branch in Heswall, Merseyside, on 25 March 2021. Queues outside branches have been reported across the country even as lockdown has eased

And Britain’s largest building society currently has no plans to return to a full-scale service.

Of the country’s six largest current account providers, only NatWest and Santander told This is Money they had returned to pre-pandemic opening hours since 12 April, or would do from 26 April in Scotland, while Lloyds Banking Group said it was in the process of doing so.

Many banks either temporarily shut under-used branches at the start of the country’s first lockdown last March or scaled back their opening hours, which they said was necessary to protect staff. 

The Bank of England had urged banks to keep their doors open for those who needed it.

Photographs taken at the start of the lockdown showed customers of the likes of Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander having to queue around the corner as banks restricted the number of people who could enter a branch.

And 12 months on, despite many in England cramming into shopping centres, gyms and pub gardens, the picture remains the same.

Andrew Hagger, the founder of personal finance site Moneycomms, told This is Money: ‘On a couple of visits to Norwich in the last couple of weeks I saw quite a few people queuing outside different banks.

Queues outside a Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Bolton last March, just before the country's first lockdown

Queues outside a Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Bolton last March, just before the country’s first lockdown 

‘I appreciate that banks have to consider the safety of their staff and customers, but queues remain a fairly common feature.’

The limited opening hours mean Britain’s banks are increasingly an anomaly as more and more things on the high street reopen.

One This is Money reader from Yeovil, Somerset, said: ‘Given rules have currently been relaxed and banks are designation as essential it seems disappointing many branches are still only open for a couple of hours a day, on weekdays only.’

Queues outside a NatWest branch in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, last December

Queues outside a NatWest branch in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, last December

The same thing happened last summer, when campaigners called for banks to fully reopen branches which were described as ‘a lifeline for vulnerable citizens and small local businesses.

According to the data provider Springboard, footfall rose 93.2 per cent on UK high streets from 11 April as the lockdown eased in England. The rise meant overall footfall was just 25.4 per cent below pre-pandemic levels in 2019 and 35 per cent lower on UK high streets.

In England, where the lockdown has properly eased, overall footfall rose 96.4 per cent compared to the week before, as people relished the opportunity to get out of the house.

Shoppers hit the high street as lockdown eases in England and Wales 
  Year-on-year change in footfall: 2021 vs 2019  Week-on-week change: 
All UK destinations -25.4% 87.8% 
UK high streets  -34.9%  93.2% 
Footfall in English destinations  -22.2%  96.4% 
Footfall in Scottish destinations  -53.1%  14.1% 
Footfall in Welsh destinations  -29.4%  74.2% 
Source: Springboard (Footfall figures cover w/c 11 April)

Our reader added: ‘As the rest of life is starting to get back to normal, it is a shame the very basis of the economy, the banks, are limiting choice and causing inconvenience for their customers.

‘What’s the rationale for this? Is it to expedite a migration to online banking while making it more inconvenient to go in person? Also, the whole “keeping people safe” argument is now counter-intuitive as people are forced to visit in a narrow window making social distancing less likely.’

‘As we ease out of lockdown, earlier opening and later closing times should be considered in a bid to ease some of the congestion and reduce waiting times for customers’, Andrew Hagger suggested.

Another reader, who now uses a HSBC branch in Rayleigh, Essex, to pay in cheques and do other business banking after one in nearby Wickford, Essex closed down a few years ago, says a new 10am-2pm window has made it extremely busy.

‘I’m worried the shorter opening hours may be here to stay, after a decade of branches being axed – am I going to spend time in queues better spent elsewhere?’

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Barclays, which had 859 branches at the end of last December, said opening hours varied depending on local need, but was unable to say exactly how many were operating reduced hours. 

Prior to the pandemic 95 per cent of its branches were open between 9-10am and 4.30-5pm.

However, we’ve had reports of shorter operating hours in Rayleigh, Essex (from our reader above) which is currently open from 10am to 2pm, while in Putney, London, it’s is open from 9am-4pm – but its counter services operate only between 10am and 2pm.

The bank said it expected to adjust hours in the coming weeks, and that its busiest branches would soon move back to a 4pm closing time.

99 per cent of HSBC’s 592 branches across the UK are open, all of which are operating with reduced opening times, either 10am-4pm or 10am-2pm. 

Before the coronavirus, the majority of its branches were open from 9am-5pm or 9.30am-4.30pm, although some opened between 10am and 3pm.

It said it had cut opening hours to provide coverage across more communities with a reduced number of staff able to service them, rather than opening fewer branches for longer. 

It said the later opening and earlier closing times enabled customers and staff to avoid the rush hour and helped with social distancing.

The bank said it did not expect these shorter opening times to continue, but did not specify when normal service would resume.

Britain’s largest building society, Nationwide, said its 650 branches were open from 9am until either 2pm, 3pm or 4.30pm. Half of them were open on Saturdays. Before the first lockdown they were open from 9am to 4pm or 5pm.

A spokesperson said: ‘As we slowly begin to emerge from the pandemic, our ongoing priority is the health and wellbeing of our members and colleagues. 

‘While we continue to review our opening hours to ensure we’re meeting members’ needs, we have no current plans to make any changes.’

Customers in Barrow-in-Furness forced to wait outside a Lloyds branch in May 2020. Britain's largest bank said it would open its doors for longer following the easing of lockdown

Customers in Barrow-in-Furness forced to wait outside a Lloyds branch in May 2020. Britain’s largest bank said it would open its doors for longer following the easing of lockdown

Lloyds Banking Group, which runs Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, has started to reopen the doors of its 1,568 combined branches for longer since the latest lockdown eased. It said many of its branches would open on Saturdays and larger ones would open from 9am-5pm.

It said all hours were tailored according to local usage and customer demand.

Seven of Santander’s currently 563 branches have been closed since March 2020 and haven’t reopened, but aside from that it has returned to normal service of 9.30am-4.30pm on weekdays and either 9.30am-4pm or 9.30am-12pm on Saturdays.

However, it is in the process of shutting 111 branches by the end of August.

NatWest, which has 844 branches along with Royal Bank of Scotland, said the majority in England and Wales had returned to normal opening hours and those in Scotland would do so from 26 April.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at consumer group Which?, said: ‘Branch networks have continued to shrink in the last year despite the FCA asking firms to reconsider closures, so it’s crucial that banks provide their customers with reasonable access to banking services. 

‘This is why the Government must urgently press ahead with its plans for legislation to protect cash, which will make the financial regulator responsible for the cash system. 

‘As part of those duties it should investigate whether people’s access to cash is being negatively affected by branch closures or restricted opening hours and take action if necessary.’ 

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