Government Urged To Stop Free-To-Use Cash Machines Becoming Thing Of The Past
This week, consumer group Which? revealed that the amount paid by account holders to draw cash out of ATMs has jumped from £29 million to £104 million in the past year as many machines converted to charge fees.
Meanwhile, roughly 8,700 cash machines and 1,203 bank branches have closed down since the start of 2018 following a decision by the banks to slash payments to third party ATM operators, according to the Financial Times.
The decision meant that many machines were no longer profitable for the owners and were consequently forced to close down or introduce charges to stay afloat.
With the recent statistics in mind, Which? is now calling on the government to take action to tackle the issue, otherwise free access to cash could be eradicated.
John Howells, chief executive of Link - a series of shared interbank cash machines operating in the UK - explained: "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."
Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, added: "Massive cuts to the UK's bank branch and cash machine networks have been highly lucrative for the big banks - but highly costly for millions of consumers.
"Entire communities have been cut off from cash or forced to pay hefty fees to access their own money."
To put the issue into perspective, in Ward End, Birmingham, there is just one free-to-use cash machine in operation, down from 11 two years ago.
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It's even worse in areas including Royston Heath in North Hertfordshire, East Malling in Kent and Essington in South Staffordshire, where there are no machines that don't come with a fee.
Although customers are being urged to rely on cards and smartphone apps to make payments, Shaw suggests that they should take greater action to support those who use cash to make the transition to digital if branches and cash machines close.
He said: "Banks must take greater responsibility for ensuring customers are supported to make the transition to digital if branches close and that those who are reliant on cash are not left behind by changes to the banking landscape."
In its actions to highlight the issue, Which? has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for legislation to protect free access to cash.
The letter argues that 'digital payments are good, but right now the UK isn't ready to go cashless', adding: "If you don't act now, free access to our own cash will soon be gone forever."
Eric Leenders, managing director of personal finance at UK Finance, said that the industry is aware of the significance of keeping ATMs free and a number of measures have reportedly been introduced in order to avoid widespread charges.
He told the Daily Mail: "There is no 'one size fits all' approach however and understanding the needs of local communities is critical.
"That is why, alongside Link's commitments, UK Finance supports the new Community Access to Cash Pilots initiative which aims to help local communities develop and support access to cash solutions which work for them."
Featured Image Credit: PA
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