In March 2020, there were 9,560 bank or building society branches in the UK. Of these 7,675 were bank branches and 1,880 were building society branches.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of bank branches in the UK has been falling steadily, whilst the number of building society branches has been broadly steady. Between 2012 and 2020, the total number of bank and building society branches in the UK fell by 28%.

Number of bank and building society branches

Region and country data

The number of bank and building society branches per head of population varies between 1.3 and 2.0 branches per 10,000 residents in the regions and nations of the UK.

Number of branches per ten thousand people by UK country and region

There have been falls in the number of bank and building society branches in all UK regions and nations over this period.   The smallest decrease was in Northern Ireland (-1%) and the largest was in the South West (-33%).

Change in the number of branches by UK nation and region

Post offices

Post Offices provide some consumer financial services and sometimes act as an alternative to bank branches. In 2020 there were 11,638 Post Offices in the UK. Post Office numbers are discussed in detail in another Library Briefing Paper: Post Office numbers.

ATMs

ATMs (or cash machines) provide essential financial services to individuals by giving access to cash, balance and account information and some other limited functions.  According to LINK, who operate the vast majority of cash machines, the total number of ATMs in the UK peaked at 70,588 in 2015.  The number has falled in each year since then, to the February 2020 total of 53,813.  Some cash machines are curently closed because of the pandemic.

Number of ATMs in the UK

Policy

Government policy to address the issue of bank branch closures is discussed in detail in the Library Briefing Paper, Bank branches: why are they closing and what is the impact?   See also the Library briefing Protecting access to cash.

In brief, banks are bound by the ‘Access to Banking Standard’ which came into effect in May 2017. The Standard’s overarching aim is that:

Customers and relevant stakeholders of a bank branch that is closing will be provided with clear, understandable, accessible documentation and information about that specific closure as soon as the bank is able to do so, also what it will mean for them and how they can continue to bank following its closure.

The Standard was agreed by the banks, interested stakeholders, Trade Associations and the UK Government.

In September 2020, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published guidance setting out what firms are expected to do when deciding to reduce number of their physical branches or free-to-use ATMs. Firms should carefully consider the impact of a planned closure of a branch or ATM, or conversion of a free-to-use ATM to pay-to-use, on their customers’ everyday banking and cash access needs, and other relevant branch services. Where firms do close or convert any of these sites, the guidance sets out expectations around alternative access arrangements.

In March 2020, the Government said it will introduce legislation to protect access to cash and ensure that the UK’s cash infrastructure is sustainable in the long-term. A Call for Evidence on access to cash published by the Treasury closed on 25 November 2020, and on 30 March 2021 the Economic Secretary to the Treasury John Glen said the Government was “considering responses” and “will set out next steps in due course”.


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