Until recently your bank would be your first port of call if you needed to store expensive jewellery or important legal documents.
You’d pay a small annual fee to open a safety deposit box and access it during branch opening hours.
But the spiralling cost of running high-security vaults has led many banking giants such as Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS to stop offering this service.
Some still cater for existing customers but others have phased out the service, forcing people to move prized possessions.
Lock-up: The spiralling cost of running high-security vaults has led many banking giants such as Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS to stop offering this service in recent years
But safety deposit boxes could be making a comeback. Britain’s biggest bank, Lloyds, has said that, for the first time in six years, it plans to offer customers access to a safe in 15 of its largest city-based branches.
It is believed these will open later this year in cities including London and Manchester.
Newcomer Metro Bank also plans to roll out another 6,000 boxes in its new Luton branch later this year.
Christopher Barrow, of independent vaults Metropolitan Safe Deposits, says: ‘There’s a huge demand for safety deposit boxes, so it’s no surprise to see banks coming back to the market.
‘We’ve taken on thousands of new customers since they stopped offering them in branches.’
Metro Bank has offered safety deposit boxes since its launch in 2010. There are around 79,000 of them in 48 branches mainly in the South East. Nearly all are taken.
They have also proved lucrative for the bank, earning it £7 million last year. Metro Bank says its customers house a variety of items in their boxes, from birthday presents and spare keys to old love letters and even Olympic medals.
You don’t have to tell the bank what you are storing. But you will need to sign a declaration confirming it is not illegal.
Prices start from £200 a year, or £16.66 a month, for a box measuring 3 in tall, by 5 in wide, by 21.5 in deep. The largest on offer is 10 in, by 10 in, by 21.5 in and costs £675 a year, or £56.25 a month.
You can access your safety deposit box seven days a week until 8 pm.
While you can reserve one online, you’ll need to take identification into a branch to complete the process. You must also hold a Metro Bank savings or current account.
The bank has expanded outside London into areas such as Cambridge, Basingstoke, Eastbourne and Colchester.
Smaller banks including State Bank of India and Bank of East Asia — both with branches in Central London — also offer deposit boxes.
In addition, there is a wide selection of independent vaults.
Britain’s biggest bank, Lloyds, has said that, for the first time in six years, it plans to offer customers access to a safe in 15 of its largest city-based branches
World-famous department store Selfridges has offered safety deposit boxes since 1909. Prices range from £180 to £600 a year and you can access your valuables Monday to Saturday between 9.30 am and 6 pm.
Each box is operated by two keys and can only be accessed when accompanied by a custodian. Harrods customers have been able to store their valuables in its strong room for 121 years.
It has two sizes available: a small box measuring 4.25 in by 4.75 in by 17.5 in for £450 a year, and one measuring 4.75 in by 6.75 in by 17.5 in for £750 a year.
London-based Metropolitan Safe Deposits offers boxes big enough to store passports, wills, watches and precious stones from £95 a year.
Its largest boxes, big enough to hold small paintings, cost up to £2,403 a year. The unit measures 25 in by 24 in by 18 in.
St James’ Safe Deposit offers small boxes from £100 a year at its Manchester site and £135 a year at its Leeds site.
Luton Safe Deposit Centre, in Bedfordshire, offers boxes from £144 to £420 a year, the largest of which measures roughly 5 in high by 9 in wide and is 16 inches deep.
In Wales, Cardiff Safe Deposit allows unlimited access seven days a week, with boxes available from £99 a year. In Scotland, Glasgow Vaults offers safety deposit boxes measuring 2 in by 5 in by 24 in from £150 a year. Prices go up to £3,000 a year for one that is 33 in high, 16 in wide and 24 in deep.
The Hatton Garden heist, where thieves made off with £14 million of valuables from a London vault, shows the importance of insuring anything you store. Valuables in deposit boxes are unlikely to be covered by your home insurance — but check with your provider.
Some vaults offer their own insurance, providing the first £10,000 of cover free of charge.
Alternatively, seek out a specialist safety deposit box broker such as My Security Box (0121 423 1000) or Assetsure (0208 0033 190).
As a guide, expect to pay around £30 a year for £10,000 of cover.
Keep receipts to prove you own the items, certificates of authenticity and photographs of them.
You must also leave a will stating that the executor of your estate has access to the box if you die and instructions detailing where it is.