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ATM visits could increase as parts of England’s economy are reopened

Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
·3-min read

The reopening of more businesses from Monday could prompt more visits to cash machines, although some shoppers may have changed their habits for good.

Shops, hairdressers and pub beer gardens are among those reopening from April 12 in England as the next step in the road map out of lockdown is taken.

A boss at Link, the UK’s main ATM network, said it would be interesting to see how many people are paying for their first rounds in the pub in “good old cash”, and how many are turning to cards.

ATM use plunged early on in the coronavirus lockdowns, with some retailers discouraging shoppers from using cash.

However, Bank of England research has previously indicated that the risk of catching coronavirus from banknotes is low.

Plans to hike the contactless card spending limit to £100, from £45, were announced in the recent Budget. This could also mean shoppers turn to their plastic in more situations where they would have previously used cash.

The limit was previously raised to £45, from £30, in 2020.

The banking industry will implement the new £100 limit later this year.

Shoppers have also become used to doing bigger chunks of their spending online over the past year.

Recent card spending figures from trade association UK Finance showed a record proportion of Christmas shopping was carried out online in December 2020.

Online spending accounted for around a third (33.8%) of the total value of credit and debit card spending in the UK in December, it said. This was up from 28% in December 2019.

At the start of March 2020 there were 45,000 free-to-use and 15,000 charging ATMs – and a year later there were 41,000 free-to-use machines and just over 12,100 charging ATMs.

The immediate effect of lockdowns meant that many cash machines located in places forced to shut due to Covid-19 restrictions had to be switched off.

Link has previously said that as lockdowns ease, it expects some machines to come back online.

Graham Mott, director of strategy at ATM network Link, said: “The coronavirus crisis has had a huge impact on our relationship with cash.

“In early March last year, just before the crisis first struck, 77% of people didn’t think it would affect how often they used cash, now, a year later, 78% of people think it will.

“When the first lockdown hit in 2020, ATM use fell by almost 60%, then, as the things began to reopen over the summer, ATM use crept back up, but was still down 37% down for the year as a whole.

“In 2021 we still have lockdowns and transactions are still down around 45% on pre-crisis levels.”

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He said it would be interesting to see what happens to ATM use in the week ahead, adding: “A trend that has emerged over the past year is that people are visiting ATMs less often, but they’re taking out more on each visit and we may find that in the first couple of weeks, people are spending the cash they’ve saved over the past 12 months.

“Additionally, we’re definitely seeing more places encouraging people to pay by card.

“Pubs and restaurants have traditionally been quite cash heavy sectors, so we will have to see how many people will be paying for those first rounds with a card or good old cash.”