New Which? research shows cash machines around the UK have been closing at a rate of 300 every month – casting serious doubt on LINK’s pledges to protect access to cash in rural areas.
Ahead of changes to the way the ATM network is funded – due to be introduced next week – the consumer champion analysed data from LINK to track cashpoint numbers from November 2017 up until April 2018.
Which? can reveal that almost 1,500 machines closed during this period – marking a near six-fold increase from a steady rate of fewer than 50 closures a month since 2015.
These closures accelerated as operators began to learn of the plans from LINK – which runs the UK’s largest cash machine network – to cut the amount that banks pay for withdrawals. And Which? is calling on the regulator to urgently intervene and halt these cuts until a thorough analysis of the impact on communities is conducted.
The investigation found more machines were lost proportionally in rural communities (-2.1%) than urban areas (-2%) across the UK, despite LINK’s pledge that these changes would target urban, not rural machines. Such closures will hit rural communities especially hard, happening at a time when bank branch closures are also gaining pace, as recently revealed by Which?.
The findings suggest that ATM operators have already decided measures designed to protect access to cash in more remote areas are insufficient and seem to run contrary to LINK’s promises that it will do “whatever it takes” to maintain ATM provision.
LINK’s Financial Inclusion Programme promises premiums of up to 30p extra per transaction to support “at risk” machines, along with a guarantee that all free ATMs currently more than one km from the next will be exempt from these funding cuts.
But one of the largest independent ATM providers, NoteMachine, said learning of the changes in late 2017 had “an immediate effect” on its ability to maintain widespread free access, while the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA) told Which? the move set the network on “a path to disaster”.
Looking at LINK’s ATM data, from November 2017 to April 2018, Which? found:
- The UK lost 2% of its network: 2.1% was lost in rural areas, against 2% in urban.
- Scotland’s rural network was the hardest hit, suffering a 2.9% loss (urban areas saw a 2.1% reduction) .
- Wales lost 2.1% of its rural machines, with 2.3% losses to its urban network.
- England lost 2.1% in urban areas and 2.1% in rural communities.
- Meanwhile, Northern Ireland gained 2.5% in urban areas, with a 0.5% loss to its rural network.
Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses have launched a campaign to ‘Save Our Cashpoints,’ calling on the Payment Systems Regulator to conduct an urgent review to fully evaluate the impact that these changes could have on communities and consumers’ ability to use cash payments.
Harry Rose, Which? Money Editor, said:
“With hundreds of cashpoints closing every month we have serious concerns that, far from protecting consumers’ access to cash, LINK’s plans risk destroying it.
“These cuts could see millions of people who rely on cash in their daily lives struggling through these closures – with severe consequences for many communities and businesses.
“The impact of these cuts is already clear – with machines closing at a frightening pace. The regulator must act now to stop further closures and ensure that consumers aren’t suddenly stripped of their access to cash.”
Notes to editors
Which? presented our headline findings, including the fall of 1,500 ATMs across the UK, and the fact that rural areas had been worse affected to LINK, which LINK accepted. Several weeks after its original response, a LINK representative doubted our published figures, but without providing us with alternative numbers. We believe our figures are accurate.
The ‘fewer than 50’ figure is calculated by taking LINK published data (https://www.link.co.uk/about/
Changes to the ATM network across the UK are as follows:
- England: 1187 machines lost (115 rural losses -2.1%, 1072 urban losses -2.1%. Overall -2.1% loss with network at 56,471 as of 31st March 2018)
- Northern Ireland, 36 machines gained, (2 rural losses -0.5%, 38 gained in urban areas, +2.5%. Overall +1.7% gain with network at 2120 as of 31st March 2018)
- Scotland: 146 machines lost (40 rural losses, -2.9%, 106 urban losses -2.1%. Overall 2.2% loss with network at 6,367 as of 31st March 2018)
- Wales: 75 machines lost (16 rural losses, -2.1%, 59 urban losses, -2.3%. Overall -2.3% loss with network at 3,254 as of 31st March 2018).
- Overall UK network as of March 31st 2018, 68,483 cashpoints, down from 69,901 (21st Nov 2017). This figure includes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
*The country totals don’t add to the full total due to incomplete geographical data.
On 1 July, LINK is introducing a phased 20% reduction in the fee banks pay operators per withdrawal. The fee – known as the interchange rate – is currently around 25p and will be reduced by around 1p with the first cut. While this might not seem like much, operators have stated that some machines will no longer be financially viable to run.
While digital payments are increasing, Which? is concerned that not enough is being done to preserve consumers’ access to cash payments, which are still relied upon by 2.7 million people across the UK. UK Finance recently found that cash accounted for just over a third of all payments in 2017, showing it is still vital to millions of people.
Which? is concerned that LINK’s decision was simply waved through by the regulator without considering the impact on consumers. With fresh evidence of the negative impact these funding changes are having on the network, Which? is calling on the regulator to halt LINK’s cuts, before more communities lose their ATMs.
*Convenience of debit card payments puts cash in second place – UK Finance: “..Cash is still the second most frequently used payment method, just behind debit cards, accounting for just over one-third (34 per cent) of all payments in 2017.”
*In 2016, the Bank of England’s Chief Cashier Victoria Cleland said: “2.7 million people in the UK rely almost entirely on cash transactions – a number that has increased by half a million since 2015. In 2016 the value of Bank of England notes in circulation increased by 10%, reaching over £70 billion in the run-up to Christmas: the fastest growth in a decade.”