Comber (Down), Newcastle (Down), Portrush (Antrim) and Warrenpoint (Down) have all been recommended new hubs following community requests from the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland (CCNI). CCNI worked in partnership with LINK to ensure local conditions were fully considered and that the national criteria were applied correctly to Northern Ireland.
In 2021, the banking industry agreed that following the closure of any bank branch, LINK will identify whether a community requires further cash services. Additionally, any community without a branch can contact LINK directly and ask to be assessed for support.
To date, LINK has recommended 94 banking hubs across the UK including one in Kilkeel (Down), which is set to open in December. Ten hubs are already up and running across the rest of the country.
Banking hubs are a shared banking space, similar to a traditional bank branch, but available to everyone. The hub will consist of a counter service operated by Post Office employees, where customers of any bank can withdraw and deposit cash, make bill payments and carry out regular banking transactions. In addition, there will be private spaces where customers can speak to community bankers from their own bank for more complicated matters that require specialist knowledge or privacy. The banks will be working on a rotating basis, so there will be staff from different banks available on different days.
The banking hubs will now be delivered by Cash Access UK. Over the next few weeks, it will begin to engage with the local communities and to start looking for potential sites. They are likely to open in 2024.
Nick Quin, Head of Financial Inclusion, LINK: “More people are choosing to bank and pay for things digitally; however, cash and face-to-face banking remains vital for millions of people. We’re pleased to be recommending these new hubs across Northern Ireland. They will make a difference for customers and mean people won’t need to travel to do everyday transactions. If any community believes it needs additional services such as a cash machine or banking hub, they can contact LINK directly and we can assess their local community to see if we can help.”
Scott Kennerley, Director of Consumer Empowerment, Consumer Council Northern Ireland: “We are delighted that LINK is recommending these new banking hubs across Northern Ireland. We know from our research that many consumers here prefer to use cash and are still reliant on having access to a bank branch. We have worked closely with LINK to highlight the needs of consumers in Northern Ireland so to get this result for consumers is a great development.”
About the LINK Scheme: The LINK Scheme is the UK’s cash access and ATM network that connects virtually all the UK’s ATMs and provides communities with access to cash through services such as cashback at retailer’s tills and banking hubs. LINK’s role is to provide UK consumers with universal access to cash in a safe, convenient and rapid manner. A free LINK Cash Access App showing consumers their nearest free cash access location can be found at www.link.co.uk/consumers/locator/. LINK has 32 Members that issue cards and deploy ATMs in the UK. LINK is a not-for-profit organisation and governed by an independent Board, which has a clearly defined public interest remit. www.link.co.uk
What is a banking hub?
A banking hub is a shared banking space, similar to a traditional bank branch but available to everyone. The hubs currently consist of a counter service that will be operated by Post Office staff, where customers of any bank can withdraw and deposit cash, make bill payments, and carry out regular banking transactions. In addition, there will be private spaces where customers can speak to someone from their own bank about more complex issues. The banks will be working on a rotating basis, so there will be staff from different banks available on different days.
What services will the hubs provide?
Banking hubs will offer basic counter services, allowing people to withdraw cash, collect change, deposit cheques, pay bills and make balance enquiries. Automated services for deposits and withdrawals may also be available.
On alternating days, bank staff from specific banks will be available so people can speak to their own bank about problems or other banking issues they may need help with.
What other services are available to people who need access to cash?
As well as the banking hubs, communities large and small, in every part of the UK need access to cash. There are a range of existing services that are being expanded or others that have been recently launched, including:
Which banks are involved?
All the main high street banks are part of this work – and many bank customers will be able to use the counter service at the hubs and get advice, support and information about banking matters. The banks involved are:
Who will staff the banking hubs and how will they be sourced/trained?
Banks will ensure staff are available to work in the hubs on specific days of the week so people will be able to check when their own bank staff will be in the branch and can go in and speak to them. Anyone will be able to use the Post Office-staffed counter services any day that the hub is open.
People using the hubs will be able to speak to fully trained and experienced staff from each bank who will be able to provide support and banking advice.
Will the staff be able to help resolve problems and complaints?
Bank staff will be able to offer advice and support in the banking hubs and direct people to the departments that can sort out problems or resolve any complaints.
How do you decide which communities need a banking hub or cash services?
Establishing which communities need access to cash and what services are most suitable is not a just matter of demographics. Nor can need be defined by population numbers, given the diversity and location of rural communities to the country-specific needs of people in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
There are two ways for new hubs to be recommended. Whenever a participating bank makes a change to its network (such as a branch closure or reduced opening hours) it notifies LINK in advance. LINK will then assess the location’s needs, looking at what other services are available locally, the size of the location (people and number of shops) and determine whether the community needs a new hub. The criteria that LINK uses have been developed and agreed after extensive consumer and small business group input and are operated independently of the banks.
In addition, a community can also request a review itself. LINK will then independently assess the needs of that community using the same criteria. Any community can ask for a review – the form is on LINK’s website.
Community Access to Cash pilot schemes
In addition to the banking hubs, LINK has recommended several locations to be considered within the Cash Action Group’s series of pilots to work within communities and assess their needs for cash services.
This follows the successful Community Access to Cash Pilots in 2021 which, as well as creating the initial concept of a banking hub, led to the national rollout of ‘cash at the till’ cashback. This was first offered by PayPoint and is now available at over 8,000 convenience stores across the UK, with around £4 million withdrawn each week. As with banking hubs, cashback has proved particularly valuable to those on tight incomes, with the average amount withdrawn around £15 compared with the average ATM withdrawal of £80.