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Lloyds Banking Group is shutting a further 44 Lloyds and Halifax branches, sparking criticism from trade unions which say the lender is denying vulnerable consumers and small businesses of essential services.
The latest closures – due to take place by November – means Lloyds will have shut a total of 100 branches in 2021, having already closed 56 sites in the spring, a year into the Covid crisis.
Lloyds said the latest closures were linked to a drop in transactions at its branches, as customers were turning to digital banking, particularly during the pandemic. “This means that, like many businesses on the high street, we must change for a future where branches will be used in a different way, and visited less often,” said Vim Maru, the Lloyds retail director.
Unions said it was a “bitter blow for customers, staff and local communities”, and questioned how the decision aligned with Lloyds’ commitment to help Britain recover from the Covid outbreak.
Caren Evans, a national officer for one of Lloyds’ staff unions, Unite, said the union “seriously question how this decision to walk away from local communities promotes this message at a time when the customers will rely on the financial services sector support more than ever.
“The closure of 44 more bank branches will deny our communities essential services such as access to cash and experienced highly trained staff,” she added. “A local ATM is not a suitable alternative to a staffed bank branch.”
The latest announcement will affect 29 of its Lloyds branches and 15 Halifax-branded sites across England and Wales, which will close between September and November this year.
The move will also force up to 166 staff to take up jobs elsewhere in the business, while up to 60 will be allowed to apply for voluntary redundancy. Unions have confirmed there will be no compulsory job cuts.
While Lloyds will still have the largest branch network among its competitors following the closures, with 1,523 branches, that is down from 1,750 three years ago.
Lloyds said that customer transactions had dropped by 10%a year over the five years to March 2020, and fell “significantly further” during Covid lockdowns, when customers were urged to curb visits to their local branch. The bank also said that 90% of its customers would still have a branch within five miles of their home following the closures, and that 80% of its products were now offered online.
However, only a third of the branches slated for closure are based in cities and large towns, where another branch is nearby.
Consumer advocates say that local branch closures still harm less mobile customers and vulnerable people who struggle to access the internet. The UK’s financial regulator urged lenders in January to reconsider closures, citing similar concerns.
“Every branch that closes, however small, has an impact on our members and the bank’s customers,” another Lloyds staff union, Accord, said in a statement.
“We fully appreciate that the demand for high street branch banking is reducing, and the pandemic has distorted that demand significantly as customers increasingly moved to phone and app-based banking,” Accord said.
“However, the scale with which customers return to branches is an unknown at this point and we’ll be examining LBG’s plans to ensure that they’re properly thought through and robustly evidenced.”