Scottish consumers still dependent on free-to-use ATMs amid threat to network

People and businesses in Scotland are still heavily reliant on free-to-use ATMs, as changes to the LINK network threaten to cut off free access to cash for thousands of people across the country, Which? research has found.

Nine in 10 (89%) people said free cash machines are important to their everyday lives – and of these more than half (51%) described them as essential for day-to-day living, with this figure remaining similar across every age group.

Almost two-thirds (62%) said they use a cash machine once a week or more.

The survey by the consumer champion suggests a decision to reduce fees for card machine operators – which could lead to closures of free-to-use ATMs across Britain – could have a devastating impact on small businesses and rural communities in Scotland.

Ahead of this Wednesday’s parliamentary debate on the issue, Which? is urging MSPs to stand up for their constituents by backing the consumer champion’s call for an urgent review of the potential implications of the move for consumers.

One in five (19%) people in rural Scottish communities told Which? their nearest free-to-use cash machine was already too far away to walk to, compared to 3% in urban areas. While for one in seven (14%) it currently takes at least half an hour to reach their nearest cash point.

According to the survey, one in 10 (8%) had used a fee-charging cash machine in the last month and of these a third (31%) did so because they couldn’t find a free-to-use option.

Which? surveyed members of the Scottish general public to identify the role cash machines play in their lives ahead of the proposals by LINK – the UK’s largest cash machine network – to lower interchange fees paid by banks to cash machine operators.

When asked about the potential impact of closures, one-fifth (22%) said they would be less likely to use local shops that require them to pay in cash and one in seven (16%) said it would affect their ability to pay for products and services.

The projected impact on independent local traders is of particular concern to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

LINK plans to reduce the fee from 1 July 2018 and Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) are calling on the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) to urgently intervene and review the potential implications this change will have for consumers if it leads to fewer ATMs. MSPs can still play a major part in ensuring a good outcome for Scottish consumers.

LINK has said it will encourage operators to keep free machines and to protect free-to-use ATMs that are a kilometre or more from the next nearest free cash machine. However, Cardtronics, the biggest ATM operator in the UK, has said that those hit hardest would not be busy high streets, but ATMs in rural communities.

Gareth Shaw, Which? Money Expert, said:

“It’s clear that free-to-use cashpoints play a vital role for the majority of Scottish people and that some, particularly in rural communities, face substantial challenges to accessing cash.

“We are calling on the financial regulator to conduct an urgent review to ensure that people aren’t left isolated and can access the cash they need.”

Andy Willox, FSB’s Scottish policy convenor, said:

“Cash is still king in the Scottish economy so it is no surprise that consumers would be less likely to use local businesses if free-to-use cash machines were to close. High streets have been battered by big business and public sector closures for almost a decade. Now cash machines could be next to desert towns and villages.

“Ahead of this week’s Holyrood debate on ATMs, we’re calling on the Scottish Government and MSPs to urge the PSR to step in and scrutinise these proposals before it’s too late.”

Notes to editors:

  • Which? surveyed 1854 members of the Scottish public (54% general population and 46% Which? Connect panel) between Monday 16 April and Monday 23 April.
  • Dean Lockhart MSP, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, has lodged a motion to be debated in Scottish Parliament regarding the Which? and FSB ‘Campaign to Save ATMs’. The motion is to be debated on Wednesday 2nd May at 1.15pm.
  • The FSB has a case study which is available on request.

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