Which? is urging the new chancellor to use next month’s budget to protect the UK’s access to cash, as new Which? research reveals that the industry’s efforts to fix Britain’s broken cash landscape are doomed to fall desperately short.
This comes as Link – the UK’s largest cashpoint network – issues a stark warning that the free cash system will collapse within just two years without government intervention.
A staggering 9,500 free to use cash machines have been lost in the last two years. In response, Link launched its ‘Request an ATM’ scheme in October, designed to allow local communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to apply for funding for a much-needed cash machine.
However, it has received just 274 requests to date. Which? believes the figure shows the lacklustre, reactive approach taken by the industry to identify the areas that are in most severe need of help.
In contrast, a tool launched by Which? supplied Link with 3,160 demands for a free cashpoint from across the UK, with submissions from the vast majority of parliamentary constituencies.
But many locations with sharply declining or very low levels of access to free-to-use cash machines failed to make a single request – meaning those with the greatest need for access to an ATM are being underserved.
At local ward level, this includes Ward End in Birmingham, which has lost an astonishing 91 per cent of it’s free-to-use machines in the last two years, seeing its total dissolve from 11 to one.
Similarly, Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath East ward, also in Birmingham, has seen 19 free-to-use ATMs reduced to three, while East Ham North in London has seen its total of eight fall to two.
All three locations saw a spike in pay-to-use machines in their areas.
Meanwhile, several wards home to thousands of people have also lost their last free to use ATM. Royston Heath in North Hertfordshire, East Malling in Kent and Essington in Staffordshire South all lost access to a free machine, despite having populations above 5,000.
None of these locations submitted a request through Which?.
At a constituency level, there were no requests originating from Lincoln, Sheffield Heely or Warley, despite the locations losing 25, 24 and 23 per cent of their free to use machines respectively in the past two years.
With Link indicating that it may only have the funding for as few as 100 new cash machines, it is highly likely – even if it succeeded in reaching the most affected locations – that it would fall drastically short of what’s needed to serve communities hit hard by a double whammy of sharp reductions in free to use cash machines and rapid closures of bank branches.
As a result, the consumer champion is concerned industry schemes such as Link’s merely scratch the surface of a systematic issue that threatens to cut adrift millions of people who still view cash as an everyday necessity, as society rushes headlong to embrace the digital revolution.
Which? believes the only solution that can address the dramatically eroded cash system is to introduce legislation to prevent it from crumbling completely. Ahead of the budget, Which? has today written to the chancellor, calling for legislation to be introduced that protects cash for as long as it is needed.
Gareth Shaw, Head of Money, Which?, said:
“Despite the industry’s best efforts, these initiatives just aren’t enough to help the countless communities across the UK crying out for free access to cash.
“Many people have been left struggling from the double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures – and suffered at the hands of industry mismanagement that has left Britain’s cash landscape on the verge of collapse.
“This budget will decide the future of cash. The chancellor has a huge opportunity here to protect cash for the millions of people who rely on it.”
- John Howells, CEO Link: “The precipitous decline of cash usage underway is already placing severe strain on the UK’s cash infrastructure. LINK, with the banks’ support, has maintained free ATM coverage so far and will be able to continue to do so for the next year or two, but without government support the infrastructure will start to fall apart”.
- Just two weeks ago, Which? released new figures that show the amount paid by consumers to withdraw cash jumped by £29m to £104m last year – as many free machines vanished or were converted to charge fees.
- Between the January 2018 and December 2019, the number of free-to-use ATMs reduced from 54,500 to 45,000: https://www.link.co.uk/initiatives/financial-inclusion-monthly-report/
- Meanwhile 1,203 bank branches closed between January 2018 and December 2019. This rampant programme of closures has further stripped consumers of access to vital financial services and cash.
- Video – Harlech: The town with no free ATMs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQaJAIcVO1o&feature=emb_title