Coronavirus: Bank branches close as virus affects access
Scores of bank branches are closed and others have restricted opening hours as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Branches are permitted to stay open, despite the strict curbs placed on shops and gatherings by the government to slow the pandemic’s spread.
Yet staff availability means many are closing, sometimes at short notice.
People are being encouraged to use telephone and online banking, although they too are under strain, with long waits to be expected.
Customers are being urged to limit calls to the most urgent cases, to free the line for more vulnerable people. In Spain and Italy, where the pandemic has hit harder, there have been widespread branch closures, but also stricter curbs on movement.
What is the situation with your bank?
TSB has closed the doors on about a fifth of its branch network.
Others have said the situation remains under review, especially as staff levels are expected to fall as more people enter self-isolation.
Even in branches that remain open, social distancing practices are in place.
“Banks and building societies are following the government’s two-metre rule which may mean that customers are required to queue outside a branch to ensure the wellbeing of both customers and staff,” said a spokesman for UK Finance, which represents the High Street banks.
Opening hours are also being restricted – sometimes with a decision made at a local level, such as at RBS/NatWest and HSBC.
Shorter opening has been made official by the Nationwide, the UK’s largest building society, which has also shut 50 branches.
Doors at the Nationwide will only open from 10:00 GMT to 14:00 Monday to Friday, and 09:00 to 12:00 on Saturdays.
“Where possible we would ask people, particularly those at higher risk, to use online or mobile banking services and to speak to us if they have any needs or concerns,” said Nationwide’s Mandy Beech, echoing the advice from across the industry.
What advice for those waiting?
The difficulty for many is that online access is unavailable. Some people do not have a computer, and the closure of libraries has blocked the option of public computers.
Post Office counters can be used by all major bank customers for general banking needs.
The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee has said that the future of banks themselves are secure.
“UK banks are well able to withstand severe market and economic disruption,” it said.
They are continuing to lend, are offering holidays in mortgage and loan repayments, although again people will need to contact the bank rather than simply cancel payments. Some banks and building societies are creating online application forms for this.
To ease the strain on phone services, adverts at the weekend said, before calling banks, people should:
- Ask yourself: Do I need to speak to my bank, building society or credit union today?
- Consider: Can I do this through mobile online banking?
- Review: Is the answer already on their website?
Separately, there has been some concern that the vulnerable who are most comfortable with, or only use, cash risk being further affected.
Some businesses, such as takeaways, have been restricting cash use, but health guidance says there is no greater risk of using banknotes and coins. However, people are being urged to avoid touching their face and to wash hands after handling it.
The elderly and those self-isolating are also being warned not to hand over card Pin details, even to well-meaning neighbours.