Britain’s free to use ATM network is on course to be decimated in the coming months unless urgent action is taken to protect access to cash, new research from Which? reveals.
New figures obtained by the consumer champion show fees of at least 95p per withdrawal were imposed on 1,700 machines between January and March this year.
The figures show the rate of machines being converted to charge fees appears to be on the rise – with a staggering 1,250 (74%) of these conversions taking place in March alone.
Most of the ATMs affected are operated by Cardtronics – the UK’s biggest cashpoint operator – which has warned it is likely to convert a further thousand machines to charge fees in the coming months.
Notemachine, another major cashpoint provider, has warned it is considering converting up to 4,000 machines in its 7,000-strong network to charge fees due to changes in how Britain’s biggest network of ATMs is funded.
If these plans go ahead, Britain stands to lose more than one in 10 (13%) of its free cashpoints in a matter of months.
These rapid changes – which have also seen thousands of cashpoints closed – are stripping communities of the ability to get free access to their own money.
Which? is concerned that the cost of cash withdrawals has been shifted from banks to consumers, with poor and vulnerable people – who are most reliant on cash to pay for goods and services – hardest hit by the change.
When the consumer champion asked supporters how much they were being charged per withdrawal, almost a quarter (22.55%) said they were having to pay between £1.50 to £1.99.
Half (50.65%) of respondents said they faced fees of between 50p to 99p.
Meanwhile, more than four fifths (83.69%) of respondents said they would no longer use a cashpoint that had converted to fee-charging, meaning consumers face having to travel further to their nearest free cashpoint or being forced to find alternatives.
While digital payments are on the rise in the UK, there is still real appetite across the UK for access to cash, with 2.2 million people almost entirely reliant on cash in their daily lives.
Which? is warning that without regulatory action the UK risks drifting into a no-cash society that could shut people out of paying for local goods and services.
The urgency of the problem was reinforced by the recent Access to Cash Review, chaired by former Financial Ombudsman boss Natalie Ceeney, which reported that the UK’s cash infrastructure was “on the verge of collapse”.
The consumer champion is calling on Government to appoint a regulator to protect consumers and businesses alike from these rapid changes and properly manage the cash landscape to ensure no-one is denied their ability to access cash.
Gareth Shaw, Head of Money, Which?, said:
“Communities are being stripped of free access to cash at an alarming rate that could hit the most vulnerable in our society the hardest, while denying millions of people free withdrawals.
“A regulator is desperately needed to get a grip of these rapid changes across the cash landscape and ensure all those still reliant on this important payment method aren’t suddenly shut out from accessing the cash they need in their daily lives.
Notes to editors
Link supplied figures to Which? that showed that 1,700 free-to-use machines became fee-charging between January to March 2019.
Further to this, Link figures of conversions between the end of December 2018 and the end of February 2019 show that 450 free-to-use machines converted in this time period. This means that 1,250 free-to-use machines converted in March.
Britain stands to lose more than one in 10 (13%) of its free cashpoints in a matter of months. This was calculated by adding the existing 1,700 free-to-use conversions with NoteMachine’s potential conversions (4,000) and Cardtronics (1,000) against the number of free-to-use machines at the beginning of the year, approximately 52,000.
The interchange fee reduction is approximately 2.5p as calculated from Link’s update to Interchange rate implementation.
The base charge for the majority of these will be 95p per transaction.
In April 2019, Which? heard from 1,189 supporters in response to a survey on charging cashpoints.
Robin Farnsworth, 36, Kirkcaldy, told Which?:
“I stopped using the local cashpoint when it started charging me just to access my cash. I’m on a very tight budget and can’t afford to be spending out just to get the money I need for everyday life.”
Anita Brakewell, 54 from Blackpool, said:
“Being disabled means I don’t have the option of walking to the next free cash machine, so these charges shut me out of cash that’s important to my daily life. My town has also suffered from bank branch closures, making it hard to access the cash and financial services I need.”