Want to make a big cash withdrawal? Don’t bank on being allowed

If you had £12,000 sitting in your current account, and you walked into your local branch to make an over-the-counter cash withdrawal, what’s the maximum you would expect to be able to take out? Would you be surprised to be told that each branch of your bank has its own “secret” no-notice maximum withdrawal? And would you be shocked to discover your branch has opted not to keep much cash on the premises … even though it is, after all, a bank?

These are questions some bank customers may wish to ponder after hearing about the experience of retired civil servant Nick Robinson. He has accused Barclays of effectively “denying customers access” to their money after he walked into his local branch to withdraw £1,570 in cash in order to pay a bill.

He produced his debit card and photo ID, but was told that even though there was around £12,000 in his current account, £1,570 was too big a sum to have on the spot, and he could only have £1,170.

Robinson, 66, says he was also told that his branch in Oxfordshire carries no £50 notes and only limited numbers of £20 notes – so he had to walk out with a big stack of mainly £10 and £5 notes.

When he complained, he was surprised to be told by Barclays in a letter that cash withdrawal limits “are made at a local level” – but that the bank doesn’t generally disclose to customers what these limits are. He was told that in the case of his branch, in Didcot, the most someone can withdraw without notice is £2,000, but that on the day he visited the weekly cash run had just taken place, which was why he was only able to have the smaller sum.

Guardian Money had not previously encountered such a policy, where a local branch manager apparently has the discretion to decide how much an in-credit account holder can withdraw on any given day, so we decided to ask other banks what their policies were (see panel). Several, including Royal Bank of Scotland/NatWest, HSBC and Lloyds told us there were no limits on the amounts people can access without notice.


Robinson, a Barclays customer for 45 years, was also told that if he wanted his money in £50 notes, the bank would have to order them, because his branch was now expected to have only “a minimum of cash in stock”, and holding £50 notes “would impact [on] providing a service to the majority of customers”.

Robinson, who has taken his complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, told Money that a £2,000 daily limit was unacceptable, as this was arguably now not a huge sum. Someone buying a car or paying a builder may well need to withdraw more than that in one go, he says, adding: “A current account is not a savings account or long-term deposit or ‘notice’ account. To say, as Barclays has, that for reasons of security and efficiency it has opted not to keep much cash in its branches seems bizarre. After all, paying out cash is what banks are supposed to do.” He was also annoyed at the apparent admission that his branch doesn’t routinely hold all four denominations of banknote.

A Barclays spokesman told Money that Didcot was a small branch and that “locally, the demand for large cash withdrawals just isn’t present, certainly in £50 notes”. He says that while more and more customers are using digital banking, fewer customers are requesting large amounts of cash at the counter.

The spokesman adds that on the day in question, Robinson was advised he could withdraw the remaining £400 from ATMs over the next two days, or come in the following day and get it in £50 notes (Robinson disputes that this latter offer was made).

Large cash withdrawals are a thorny issue for banks because of the various scamswhich have seen some older people conned into handing over large sums of money to fraudsters. On top of that, banks are petrified about falling foul of the regulations on money laundering and financing crime, and being hit with huge fines, so they get twitchy about “unusual account activity”.

The British Bankers’ Association told us: “There is a clear tension between providing customers with easy access to their money and protecting them from the threat of a fraud that could have a devastating effect on their finances. If you are planning to make a large withdrawal, we recommend you talk to your bank in advance.”

What the banks say

Barclays “In the most part we are able to meet customers’ requests when withdrawing funds. We do not generally highlight what our local [cash withdrawal] limits are for security, and also to protect our customers and the bank … If a large sum of cash is required we will be able to meet a customer’s needs the following day.” It adds: “We would also advise the customer of alternative methods of withdrawing cash – banker’s draft, Chaps, electronic transfer – so they are not carrying around large sums of money.”

HSBC “There are no limits on the amount of money a customer can withdraw from their account – as long as there are sufficient funds.” It adds: “For larger withdrawals we do not require advance notice, but we are more likely to be able to meet requests for specific denominations or larger amounts if we are given prior notice. In most incidences we can meet the request the same day. Significantly large requests at smaller branches could take longer.”

Lloyds It says “there is no maximum amount” that a current account customer can withdraw in cash without notice, but that it would be dependent on ID and “collateral” presented – ie, a debit card – as well as the amount of cash held in the branch. If there is insufficient cash at the branch, the customer will need to give two days’ notice, assuming they pass the ID and verification checks. “We would add that in order to protect the customer we would promote alternative payment methods such as faster payments, Chaps or banker’s draft.”

RBS/NatWest “A customer is able to go into a branch to withdraw any amount of money without the need to give prior notice. However, for large amounts we would advise the customer that the type of notes would be subject to availability. They may want to consider contacting the branch in advance to request specific denominations.”

Nationwide The building society says its customers can withdraw up to £2,000 per account a day. “However, if they want to withdraw more than £500, it is best to pre-book the amount with the branch to ensure that it has the cash available. If customers want to withdraw more than £2,000, they would need to pre-book the money. This can be done the day before.” It adds that there is no set maximum that customers can withdraw, but if it is a large amount then it “would look to work with the customer to see if there was another solution for withdrawing their money (ie, Chaps).”

Santander The bank says the maximum amount a current account customer can withdraw in cash without notice is £5,000, “subject to availability of funds”, and assuming that he/she has the cash in their account. “For amounts in excess of £5,000 we would ask for 48 hours’ notice so we can make special arrangements to meet the customer’s request,” it adds. “Larger branches are able to fulfil customer requests more so than smaller local branches.”