CALLS are being made for an immediate pause on bank branch closures as it emerged that the rate of closures in Scotland has shot up this year.

Over the first half of this year they were closing at a rate of 14 a month on average - compared to six a month over the five years to 2020.

The data shared exclusively to the Herald by the consumer organisation Which? has raised concerns that banks may be rushing to shut branches before solutions to protecting access to cash can take effect.

Across the UK closures peaked between June and August when 298 branches closed their doors - an average of 99 per month.

This marks a 90 per cent rise on the previous six years when an average of 52 branches were closing per month.

The consumer champion is urging banks to prove they can take effective action to stop people losing access to cash and valued bank services without adequate alternatives being ready to put in place - or pause their branch closure plans until the government legislates to protect cash.

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Across the UK, the analysis has revealed that the rate of bank branch closures has increased significantly in 2021. It peaked between June and August when 298 branches closed their doors - an average of 99 per month.

This marks a 90 per cent rise on the previous six years when an average of 52 branches were closing per month.

In total, Which? revealed there have been 736 bank branch closures in the UK this year, with another 220 already set to close in 2022. Since January 2015, banks and building societies have closed or scheduled the closure of 4,734 branches.

HeraldScotland:

The figures come as UK Finance’s Access to Cash Action Group (CAG) is set to outline measures to address the country's access to cash crisis, which has been exacerbated by thousands of bank branches and ATMs disappearing in recent years.

It comes as cashback without purchase' scheme is being rolled out to some 200 shops across Scotland by the end of the year in a bid to retain the public's right to access hard cash.

The solution means consumers can make a cash withdrawal of up to £50 and check their balance without needing to make a purchase.

Scotland has been at the centre of the initiative to provide free cash withdrawals in shops without a purchase as part of new plans to improve access to cash across the UK.

A successful Community Access to Cash trial in four areas of the UK including Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire (Scotland) and Denny in Stirlingshire has resulted in nationwide roll-out of the scheme.

Last month Edinburgh-based TSB announced plans to axe 70 more of its branches putting 150 jobs at risk.

Recent research from the FCA found that, during the pandemic, 15% of UK adults have struggled to cope without access to bank branches and ATMs, while 16% suffered as more businesses stopped or encouraged customers to use contactless or digital payments.

HeraldScotland:

FCA research suggests that five million people remain dependent on cash.

Data provided by LINK, the UK's main cash machine network, revealed that the number of ATMs dropped from 5,866 in November, 2019, to 5,239 in September last year. There were 4022 free-to-use cash machines across Scotland while 1,217 charge - meaning that in one in four of the nation's ATMs you have to pay to get your money out.

In January, research showed that over 2m Scots have been refused payment with notes and coins during the pandemic, threatening the viability of the cash network.

However, Which? is concerned the CAG's proposals will be undermined by the decisions of individual banks to close branches before solutions to protecting access to cash can take effect.

Which chief executive Anabel Hoult has written to banks on the CAG warning that the rate of bank branch closures seriously undermines industry efforts to address dwindling cash access, and is calling on banks to pause any programme of branch closures until the group’s proposals are rolled out.

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The consumer organisation said the UK government first committed to legislation to protect access to cash in March 2020 and are urgin that measures are introduced swiftly to ensure that communities' needs for cash will be met for as long as it is needed.

Ms Hoult 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.”