Mid Bedfordshire among worst areas for access to cash - while just a handful of banks still open in North East Beds

Mid and North East Bedfordshire have among the worst access to banks and ATMs in the UK, according to new figures.

Analysis from consumer champion Which? has shown a sharp decline in the number of bank branches open in areas across much of the UK, compared to seven years ago.

According to figures up to the end of April, four banks have been shuttered in Mid Bedfordshire since the start of 2015, leaving just one remaining in the area.

And four have closed in North East Beds, leaving four remaining.

The remains of a sign over a former branch of Barclays Bank, now closed

Separate figures from LINK, a cash machine network, show there has also been a decline in the number of free-to-use ATMs across the UK in recent years.

Their data shows that between the start of 2018 and early March this year, the number of ATMs in Mid Bedfordshire dropped from 41 to 29.

The same data shows that the number of ATMs in North East Bedfordshire dropped from 46 to 36.

Which? further highlighted Mid Bedfordshire as one of 17 constituencies with particularly poor access to cash, with three or fewer bank branches and 30 or fewer free-to-use ATMs.

The increasing use of online banking and contactless payments has led to concerns some will be left behind, or unable to access key services.

Which? chief executive, Anabel Hoult, said: “While the pandemic has accelerated the move to digital payments for many consumers, many are not yet ready to make that switch and require protection from an avalanche of ATM and bank branch closures that have left the UK’s cash system at risk of collapse.”

A bill to protect access to cash was announced as part of the Queen’s Speech in May.

The Treasury says the new legislation will ensure “continued access to withdrawal and deposit facilities across the UK”.

Economic secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, said: “We know that access to cash is still vital for many people, especially those in vulnerable groups.

“We promised we would protect it, and through this bill we are delivering on that promise.”

Full details on what will be included are yet to be published.

Which? welcomed the bill but said it “must ensure that clear requirements are placed on industry to meet communities’ need for cash”.

Its data found that nearly half (48%) of bank branches across the UK have closed since the start of 2015, and seven constituencies have seen every one of their bank branches closed in recent years.

And LINK says that over 13,500 free-to-use ATMs have been cut from the UK’s network – a quarter of the 54,500 in operation at the start of 2018.

Recent research by the Royal Society of Arts estimates 10 million people in the UK would struggle in a cashless society.

The research suggests the elderly and those in areas with poor mobile or broadband connectivity have suffered most in the move to digital banking.

RSA researcher Mark Hall said: “For millions of people, their relationship with cash is critical to the way they manage their weekly budget.

“It’s vital that the dash to digital doesn’t disenfranchise anyone, especially with the cost-of-living crisis putting such significant strain on family finances right now.”