Analysis from financial guidance charity Citizens Advice has revealed that 206 British post offices have permanently closed in the last two years, averaging two closures a week.
The ‘Gaps in the network’ report also found that 1,291 post offices are referred to as being ‘temporarily closed’, but almost six in 10 of these have been shut for more than two years.
One in three rural post offices are now offered as part-time outreach services, open for an average of just five-and-a-half hours a week. Thirteen percent (totaling 233) of outreaches are open for only one hour a week, and the charity found that one outreach is only open for 10 minutes a week.
Citizens Advice has said that this has led to huge gaps in the service. People have reported to the charity that they now spend more time and money accessing post office services, and feel a loss of independence and even increased isolation since their local office was shut.
One woman who relied on the post office for paying bills and topping up her energy meter reported that after she moved house she was unable to afford the bus journey to her nearest post office, the one closest to her new house having closed.
Research undertaken by Citizens Advice found that certain groups are more reliant on post office services than others. Despite closures, when asked, 18% of people said they still visited their post office weekly. This increased to 23% of those living in rural areas, 27% of carers, 22% of over 65s, and 21% of disabled people.
The charity warns that the Post Office must increase investment in rural locations to ensure communities across the country maintain their connection to vital services.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said, “Post offices sit at the center of our communities. They help many small businesses thrive, stop already isolated communities being cut off entirely, and enable people to carry out essential tasks, like paying bills. But they’re at breaking point. We’re currently losing two post offices a week, and outreach services often aren’t an adequate replacement. Maintaining post office investment is crucial or the service will never keep pace with the needs of the communities it’s intended to serve.”
Responding to the report, a Post Office spokesperson said, “Post Office does not accept that this report accurately reflects our network of 11,500 post offices, which has been stable for a decade. While banks and traditional retailers have reduced their presence on the high street and in towns and villages, Post Office is sustaining and strengthening its network across the UK. In 2019 alone, Post Office opened over 200 branches across the network; and last year we responded to the pandemic with the fastest net growth in the network for decades. From the end of March 2021 to end December 2021, the net growth in the network was 181. Sometimes branches do close, for example if a postmaster has decided to retire after many decades of service.
“We are grateful to nearby postmasters who step up to help, and will always seek to find a permanent replacement while the original branch is recorded as temporarily closed. In many locations, an existing nearby post office or another new branch will open to serve that community and meet the access criteria, with 99% of the public living within three miles of a post office and 90% within one mile. Some of our branches, including many outreach post offices, are supported by a dedicated subsidy from the government to ensure a sufficient service for the number of customers in those communities. The costs of operating the network are not fixed, and the government should reflect this in determining the appropriate level of subsidy if it wishes to maintain current levels of service and accessibility.”