The past year has been catastrophic for the high street with thousands of jobs and retailers closing their doors for good.

Those that have survived have undergone huge restructuring with the pandemic accelerating the shift to online retail and digital banking.

But in and amongst it all lies a bigger problem – what happens to the most vulnerable people when banks close their doors at a time when free ATMs are losing their funding?

Under new plans from today, local shops will be allowed to dish out cashback and the Post Office will offer additional banking services to save communities at risk of losing access to cash.

It’s part of the Treasury’s promise to protect the 5million vulnerable people in isolated areas that still heavily rely on physical money.

Today, the financial services industry has launched a trial that will see eight towns and villages across the country roll out new cash and banking services.

The trials – funded by the UK’s main banks and the Post Office – are testing ways to make it easier for small businesses and consumers to deposit and exchange cash, without having to travel miles to their nearest bank
(Image: Katielee Arrowsmith / SWNS)

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Local shops will act like ATMs, allowing people to withdraw money without a minimum spend or purchase.

And Post Offices will put up new self-service screens in stores so customers can manage their money without having to queue up.

New, free ATMs will also be installed in some of the communities taking part in the Community Access to Cash Pilots trial.

The areas taking part in the trial are: Button Village in North Yorkshire, Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent, Cambuslang in Lanarkshire, Denny in Falkirk, Hay-on-Wye in Powys, Lulworth Camp in Dorset and Milisle in Northern Ireland.

Rochford in Essex is also on the list. The town’s 20,000 residents have not had a bank branch since the last remaining walk-in closed a year ago.

The area is one of two places where “bank hubs” will also be set up. Together with Cambusland, it will see major banks and the Post Office put under the same roof where customers can pay in cheques, deposit cash and withdraw money without charges.

These bank hubs will be located in empty high street shops or bank branches which have been closed down.

This means customers can use the bank hub as a Post Office and also talk to someone from their bank if they need financial advice.

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It comes as widespread ATM and bank closures have fuelled fears that “cash deserts” are being created, especially in rural parts of the UK.

Almost 250 free-to-use cash points are disappearing a week in the UK according to consumer group Which?.

The closures are linked to a funding row between Link, high street banks and government funding.

It follows thousands of bank branch closures in the past five years, with Santander alone set to axe 111 more branches by August.

What are your thoughts on bank closures? Let us know in the comments below

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