The research found that, on average, bank branches are open for just 34 hours a week before lunchtime closing hours are included. However, rural communities can expect an average of just 29.5 hours. In south Cambridgeshire, banks are open for an average of just 15 hours a week, or 2.5 hours a day.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: “High street banks closing branches or reducing their opening hours is a major problem in rural areas. Many people in remote parts of the country – especially the elderly – rely on branches being open and available because they often don’t have access to online banking. Some of them travel long distances to get to their nearest branch and are entitled to expect them to be open 9-5, Monday to Friday.”
Across the country, 33 local authorities of 358, around one in 10, have no banks open on weekends, meaning those with full-time jobs may have to take a day off to access key services.
Natwest had the lowest opening hours, with banks open on average just 29.5 hours a week. It was followed by Barclays at 31.5 hours and Lloyds and Bank of Scotland at 32.5 hours. Customers who rely on the Barclays in Manchester St Ann’s Square are the worst affected. The branch is open for just four hours a week -10am to 12pm Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Shared banking hubs
The Government has previously said that it plans to legislate to protect the future of cash and a number of initiatives have already been announced, including shared banking hubs and the availability of basic banking at Post Offices.
However, much of the response has centred on communities that are being hit with bank or ATM closures rather than restricted hours.
Sir Vince Cable, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said: “It is clearly part of a general withdrawal of customer services. This particular tactic is a stealthy way of closing down the network. They should be honest with the public. If they want to close they should go through the proper procedure and have the consultation, instead of trying to tiptoe out of the back door.”
Baroness Ros Altmann, a former pensions minister, added: “Banks don’t seem to be working for customers’ interests. Some are doing share buybacks and giving nice bonuses but it would be good to see them treating their customers better.”
She also pointed out that many people are reluctant to bank online because of the surge in fraud in recent years, particularly the elderly who are the most reliant on physical branches.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Many older people value the services provided by bank branches, in particular the human touch that a counter service can provide, so it’s a concern that more and more local bank branches are not only closing but also restricting opening hours for customers.
“The scale of the bank branch cull over recent years has been extremely damaging for so many local communities nationwide and a serious blow for the millions of older people who rely on them, particularly those who are not online or confident with mobile banking.”