Thousands of households lost access to cash during lockdown, research finds

A peak of 59,000 people lost access to all sources of cash within three miles of their home during the coronavirus lockdown, a report has said.

The figures were contained in a Cash and Covid “insight” report, hosted by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Among this group, two-thirds still had an operating source of cash within five miles.

Insight reports contain the views of contributors, drawn from staff as well as outside experts, and should not necessarily be taken to represent the FCA’s views.

The report said: “For most people the unprecedented reduction in services at ATMs and bank branches had little or no effect on their access to cash, but a small number of rural areas were severely affected.

“During the lockdown (spanning end of March – beginning of June 2020) up to 15.7% of all UK physical and mobile branches and 11.7% of ATM sites had closed.

“Despite this the share of the UK population who lost access to a source of cash within three miles in the spring 2020 never exceeded 0.1%.”

The report noted that areas where access to cash was already stretched were more likely to feel the effects of the loss of access, adding: “While the percentages were small, those who lost access to cash still amounted to thousands of households.”

There were also variations across the UK.

The report said: “On April 21, when the overall UK access to cash was at its lowest, almost 0.5% of the population of Scotland had lost access to all prior cash sources within three miles, while the corresponding figure for England was only 0.07%, and Northern Ireland saw no material loss of access at all.

“Again, despite the small percentages, the absolute numbers of affected consumers were quite substantial: around 31,000 in England, 25,000 in Scotland, and 4,000 in Wales.”

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “It’s alarming that tens of thousands of people, many who live in areas that were already struggling with cash access, were left high and dry when the coronavirus outbreak led to widespread closures of banks branches and cash machines across the UK.

“It’s still unclear how many of these closures will be permanent. Having to travel several miles to take out cash is simply not a viable option for some consumers who rely on it to pay for essential goods and services.

“Rapid action is needed to ensure that future lockdowns do not push the cash network past the point of return, and that communities are not abandoned. The government must introduce its legislation to protect cash at the earliest opportunity.”