By Sonia Rothwell
BBC Radio 4's Money Box
Many people keep wills and house deeds in safe custody
A high street bank has told its customers it is abandoning the safe deposit service it has offered for decades.
The Co-Operative Bank is withdrawing the facility from all of its 92 branches from the end of the year.
The bank has blamed a drop in the number of people using the service, and the changing nature of branch premises.
Some newer branches do not have room for huge, old-style strong-rooms, and therefore lack the level of security the bank said is necessary to keep the boxes safe.
Co-op Bank customers who need the facility to store documents such as wills and house deeds will now have to find other options.
All of the big four banks still offer safety deposit boxes, although their fees vary.
Barclays for example, charges £18 per year for a small document wallet with a £10 access fee.
Halifax and Abbey have never offered the service, and BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme could find none of the 63 building societies offering personal safety deposit boxes either.
Proceeds of crime
Only Lloyds TSB reported a "significant" drop in the use of safe custody boxes, though it and the other big banks have no plans to follow the Co-Op in withdrawing them.
There are also independent providers of similar secure box services nationwide. They are often more expensive than the banks and charges can be around £60 - which includes the cost of the box - plus access fees.
The other option, storing documents with solicitors, may become less common because of the Proceeds of Crime Act.
It says that if regulated bodies like solicitors have reasonable grounds to suspect property has been obtained as the result of a crime and they store that property, they may be committing an offence under the Act.
So although it is currently possible to store wills and house deeds with solicitors, constraints on storage space as well as security concerns may see this usually free service become subject to fees.
BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 26 November, 2005, at 1204 GMT.
The programme was repeated on Sunday, 27 November, at 2102 GMT.