Communities face further strain accessing cash, warns Which?

Which? research has identified over 200 communities in Britain with poor ATM provision, or no cash machines at all, which might be hardest hit by proposals that could reduce the network.

Which? is worried that proposals from LINK – the UK’s largest cash machine network – to lower its fees by 20% could lead to mass closures of free-to-use ATM machines across Britain, hitting already suffering communities even harder. The fee in question – currently set at 25p – is paid by banks per withdrawal to maintain the free-to-use ATM network.

Ahead of LINK’s final decision, Which? analysed LINK data on 70,000 cash machines across the UK. It found that 123 postcode districts – with a combined population of 110,935 – did not appear to contain a single ATM, making many consumers reliant on access in nearby villages or towns. Meanwhile, a further 116 postcode districts appear to have just one ATM, 37 of which charge a fee.

Which?’s research revealed a number of remote areas across the UK, where ATM provision is particularly low – with either poor, or no access at all. Postcode district PE32 in Norfolk was found to be the most populated (15,294 people) of these areas. Across the country, we found other communities that fell into the same bracket of poor provision, or no access at all. They are: TA7, Somerset (14,982), TN27, Kent (12,404), NR16, Norfolk (11,953) and YO13, North Yorkshire (10,111).

With many rural areas already struggling to access cash after bank closures, LINK proposals could place further strain on these communities’ access to free-to-use ATMs. 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.

Which? also used LINK data to identify local authorities with higher proportions of fee-charging ATMs and found over half of all machines in Cherwell (57%) already charged a fee. This is followed by the Shetland Islands (56%), North Warwickshire (52%), Purbeck (47%) and Great Yarmouth (43%). Which? is concerned that the latest proposals could result in consumers struggling to access free withdrawals with mainly fee-charging machines remaining.

Which? wants the needs of consumers to be put first, rather than pressure from some banks to cut costs, and discourage use of cash, leading to a situation where accessing cash becomes a problem. Which? also wants the Payment Systems Regulator to conduct an urgent review to fully evaluate the impact that these changes could have on consumers, millions of whom rely on the free-to-use network to access cash, including looking at alternative options for protecting consumers.

Gareth Shaw, Which? Money Expert said:

“Reducing the free-to-use ATM network would hit consumers who rely on access to cash machines hard.

“These proposals could place a strain on communities across the UK that are already struggling to access the cash they need following mass bank closures. The financial regulator must intervene to avoid this situation getting worse.”

Notes to editors

Which? analysis is based on data from LINK (correct at November 2017).

The total number of ATMs in the UK is 70,077. Of these, 14,249 (20%) charge for withdrawals – but only 2% of the total amount of cash withdrawn in 2016 incurred a fee.

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