Access to cash during Covid-19: identifying and managing temporary gaps in provision

A summary of joint work between the PSR and FCA

Throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the PSR and the FCA have collaborated with other regulators and the industry to collate a single database of cash access points in the UK1. This has enabled us to monitor the emergence of access to cash ‘cold spots’ and coordinate the industry response to ensure that vulnerable and self-isolating groups can continue to access cash2.  

  • The PSR and FCA collected information on c.19,000 bank/building society and post office branches and c.60,000 ATMs
  • The analysis showed that, over the COVID-19 period of April – June 2020, 99% of population maintained their pre-COVID-19 access to cash within a 3-mile and 5-mile radius

Despite the decline in cash use in recent years, it remains an essential payment mechanism for many. During the crisis and lockdown, some consumers, such as those who are vulnerable or self-isolating, continue to rely on cash to pay friends or family members to buy groceries on their behalf. Some of these consumers will continue to have a need to use cash as we move out of the Coronavirus crisis.

Using data provided by industry, the PSR and the FCA have created a dataset of cash access points across the UK, including ATMs, bank branches, and post offices. By reviewing the data, we have been able to quickly monitor temporary closures to identify access to cash ‘cold spots’ during the crisis.

This information was used to support coordinated action through FCA-led meetings with senior stakeholders from across the industry, including banks, building societies, the Post Office and LINK, as well as the members of the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy (JACS) Group3.  

Collecting a comprehensive dataset of access to cash points in the UK

From the outset of COVID-19, it was clear that access to cash would be impacted. Due to the unprecedented nature of the crisis, the extent of the impact on consumers requiring cash was uncertain.

We collected information on the locations and temporary closures of cash access points from the major banks, building societies and the Post Office on their bricks and mortar and mobile branches, and from LINK and the larger ATM deployers on the ATM locations.  

The combined dataset had information on approximately 19,000 branches of banks, building societies, and post offices (99% of UK branch coverage), as well as around 60,000 ATMs, which accounts for most of the estate. This is the most comprehensive dataset of cash access points to date. We have recently published a map of cash access based on this dataset.

During the period April – June 2020, fewer than 12% of all UK branch locations close and fewer than 12% of ATM sites closed.

Mapping ‘cold spots’ for access to cash

Our mapping work looked at where people live across each region in the UK and compared it with where ATMs, bank branches and Post Offices are located and had closed due to government restrictions for COVID-19. This allowed us to build a detailed picture, highlighting the impact of those closures on consumers. 

We built a model to calculate the distances from the centre of census output areas (OAs) to the locations of all cash access points within a 3-mile, 5-mile and 10-mile radius4.  We then identified ‘cold spots’ areas, where the population had access to at least one cash point (be that a bank or post office branch or an ATM) within a 3-mile radius but where this was subsequently lost following the closures5

This analysis showed that over 99% of the population had maintained its pre-COVID-19 access to cash (free or charging) within a 5-mile radius – with less than 10,000 people across the UK losing access in this radius. Fewer than 0.1% of the UK population has lost access to cash within a 3-mile radius. This figure has been relatively low and stable over the entire COVID-19 period. However, despite good overall coverage, we are also very aware that the characteristics of some consumers may mean that access is still restricted even where coverage is good within a certain radius, for example if they are vulnerable, or because of restrictions on public transport. 

While some of these restrictions will ease as we move out of the crisis and allow some consumers better access to cash, for other consumers issues such as transport and mobility may continue to be a barrier to access. Understanding these needs, characteristics and barriers better is a key part of our ongoing work on access to cash so we can help maintain it for those who need it in the longer term.

The map below shows the extent and location of access to cash ‘cold spots’ due to COVID-19 closures across UK local authorities. The analysis shows that, in m