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Growing concerns about bank closures & rising crime

28 October 2022

Growing concerns about bank closures & rising crime

The continuing closure of NatWest and Lloyds branches offering safe custody, combined with rising levels of burglaries, lead to growing concerns for the safety of valuable possessions according to Christopher Barrow of Metropolitan Safe Deposits.

The number of police recorded burglary offences in London was relatively low during the pandemic lockdowns and the subsequent work-from-home period. The 12 months to 31 March 2021 and 12 months to 31 March 2022 recorded 55,851 and 54,186 London burglaries, respectively, which compared with an average of 75,000 in the preceding five years.

However, whilst statistical evidence has not yet been officially recorded, there are increasing reports and fears from security experts that the current cost-of-living crisis has triggered a rise in residential burglaries. Unfortunately, this coincides with the withdrawal of banks from providing safe custody for family valuables.

All the major UK banks have been exiting or reducing their safe deposit services since the 1980s, a process that has accelerated during the past 15 years. HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Co-op Bank have no customers with safe deposit boxes in their UK branches. NatWest and Lloyds withdrew from offering safe custody to new customers over 10 years ago. Lloyds now has just two storage facilities (in London and Manchester) and NatWest provides a service at very few branches. Customers at NatWest’s Tottenham Court Road and Notting Hill Gate branches are currently being instructed to close their safe deposit boxes within the next few months. 

Few of the other UK retail banks provide any meaningful safe custody service. Halifax (owned by Lloyds) offers safe deposit boxes only at its New Oxford Street branch in London. Santander has limited availability at some branches. Bank of Scotland, Nationwide, Virgin Money, TSB Bank and Tesco Bank do not offer the service. A handful of smaller banks offers a safe deposit box service. These include the Strand branch of Coutts (owned by NatWest) in London, ICICI Bank (in Wembley & Harrow), State Bank of India (in Leicester and Birmingham), Bank of East Asia (in Manchester) and Metro Bank (mainly in London and South-East England).

Outside of the banking sector, there is a small but growing group of independent safe deposit box providers. The established players in London are Harrods (Knightsbridge), Selfridges (Oxford Street), Chancery Lane Safe Deposit (Holborn), Metropolitan Safe Deposits (Knightsbridge, St John’s Wood and Chiswick), Balthorne Safe Deposit Centres (Hampstead, Edgware and Hatton Garden), Bank House Lockers (Wembley and Croydon) and Sharps Pixley (St James’s).

There has been an explosion of interest in opening up new vaults all over the country. They have started springing up in areas of concentrated Asian communities, such as Hounslow and Southall (in London), Birmingham, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. Many of these vaults have been established by current or former jewellers, diamond traders and bullion dealers.

There is, of course, one other option for exiting bank customers and that is to keep their valuables at home. For most families, the undeniable fact is that there will be no independent vaults near them. Installing a high-quality home safe and a sophisticated alarm system is a sensible precaution against the average, opportunistic burglar. However, it may not protect families from the more sophisticated burglar. One suggestion that does make sense is to store everyday items at home and to keep the more valuable possessions (heirlooms, gold bars, coins, important documents etc) in a secure vault.

With the current global and national economic crisis, it is highly unlikely that banks will reverse their decision to withdraw from safe custody, especially given the relentless move towards digital banking and a cashless society. The corollary of a shrinking number of bank vaults is an expanding independent safe deposit box sector. That process will continue, but it will be very slow in view of the high levels of funding required and the sheer scale of bank vaults that have been closed.

This severe national supply shortage will continue to face the large number of bank customers who have nowhere to go with their valuables except their home safes. There are arguments that, as personal banking goes digital, market demand for safe deposit boxes from the younger generation will diminish. To date, there has been no evidence of reduced demand from any age group. Indeed, warnings of a rise in burglaries and the increasing cost of home contents insurance have prompted families to look further afield for somewhere safe to store their precious possessions.


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