UK faces ‘cash deserts’ as high streets are left without banks or ATMs, consumer group warns

A toxic mix of bank branch and cash machine closures could soon create cashless ‘deserts’ across swathes of the country.

This warning, from consumer group Which?, comes as the major high street banks, led by Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, continue to close branches in droves.

Already 300 branches are earmarked for the chop this year, following nearly 900 closures last year – one in ten of the total network.

On top, a change in the way cash machine operators are remunerated could see thousands of ATMs axed as they become unprofitable to run, leaving some communities – especially rural ones – cashless.

A decision on the new charges ATM suppliers can levy on rival banks whose customers use their machines is imminent.

Such a frightening withdrawal of banking facilities from the high street has caused hundreds of readers to contact The Mail on Sunday in recent weeks to complain about the loss – or imminent closure – of their local branch.

This followed our interview last month with Jane Howard, head of retail banking at Royal Bank of Scotland, in the wake of her controversial decision to order the axing of 259 branches across both its RBS and NatWest brands.

She said the closures were driven primarily by a desire among customers to bank online.

But readers accuse Royal Bank of Scotland and other mainstream banks of pandering to dividend hungry shareholders rather than the needs of customers and forcing people to bank online, even when broadband coverage is at best patchy.

They also believe the banks are helping kill the high street and ignoring the banking needs of the elderly and small businesses who prefer – or need – to use a branch.

For the past two decades, The Mail on Sunday, alone among national newspapers, has highlighted the carnage caused within communities by bank branch closures. In April 2000, we exclusively reported on Barclays’ alarming decision to close 172 branches on one single day.