Halifax blame low customer usage for branch closures in Newry and Coleraine

The Halifax branch on Belfast's Shaftesbury Square, which closed on June 28. The lender has confirmed plans for further closures in Newry and Coleraine.

NORTHERN Ireland’s bank branch network continues to shrink with Halifax the latest lender to confirm more cuts.

The bank’s parent owner confirmed its Newry branch will close on November 8 2022, with its Coleraine branch shutting January 10 2023.

They’re among the 66 closures announced by the Lloyds Banking Group.

It comes just one month after the banking giant closed the Halifax branch on Belfast’s Shaftesbury Square on June 28.

The latest closures will leave Halifax with just 13 branches in Northern Ireland.

Lloyds also operates a large Halifax call centre in Belfast.

In a document justifying its plans to close its outlet at Newry’s Buttercrane Centre, Halifax said just 78 customers had used the branch regularly in the 12 months to March 2022, with transactions at the branch down 54 per cent on 2017 levels.

It will leave customers travelling more than 20 miles for the nearest physical branch in Portadown or Lurgan.

Halifax’s customers in Coleraine will even further to travel, with their nearest physical branch located in Ballymena, some 27 miles away, with the Derry city branch just over 32 miles away.

The lender said it recorded 113 customers using its Coleraine branch on a regular monthly basis in the year to March 2022.

Branch transactions had also dropped significantly – 45 per cent in five years.

Confirmation of the closures came as the Lloyds Banking Group posted better-than-expected half-year profits on Wednesday.

The high street lending giant reported a six per cent fall in profits to £3.7 billion in the first six months of 2022 after setting aside the loan loss provision, but the result was better than the £3.2bn predicted in the market.

Lloyds revealed a £377 million hit to cover loan losses and said £95m of its half-year impairment charge was also due to a weaker economic backdrop in the UK as soaring inflation affects consumer spending.

Lloyds said customers have ditched 2.2 million subscription services since last summer in the face of soaring inflation and are building up savings for a financial buffer ahead of what is expected to be a dire winter for energy bills.

Chief executive Charlie Nunn said that, while most of its customers are able to tighten spending ahead of this October's eye-watering energy cap hike, around one per cent are already "struggling to make ends meet".

But the group said it has yet to see a rise in borrowers falling behind with repayments, despite the inflation pressures.

Despite the wider economic woes, the bank raised its full-year profitability outlook, including its net interest margin - a key measure for retail banks - as higher interest rates are providing a boost to its earnings.

The Bank of England has increased rates from 0.1 per cent to 1.25 per cent since last December to try to rein in rocketing inflation, with another steep increase expected to be on the way next week.

Lloyds also unveiled a 20 per cent rise in its interim dividend payout, helping shares in the group lift four per cent on Wednesday morning.

On an underlying basis, the bank also saw profits rise 34 per cent to £4.1bn in the first six months of 2022.