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Free-to-use ATM guarantee pledge by banks

By Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent

Some banks and cash machine deployers have made a 12-month pledge to help maintain the spread of free-to-use ATMs amid fears some could disappear as cash use plunges during the coronavirus crisis.

Cash machine network Link says Barclays, NatWest, PayPoint and Sainsbury’s Bank are supporting the commitment.

These providers operate nearly 16,000 ATMs, equating to 30% of Link’s total ATMs, and will step in so no community loses free access to cash.

The initiative provides a guarantee that communities facing losing access to cash will have its free ATM replaced by a member of Link. The providers have pledged to respond to any requests to replace lost ATMs covered by Link’s commitment.

During the coronavirus crisis, the use of ATMs has plunged by more than 50% as people stay at home.

But there are still around 20 million Link ATM transactions and over £1 billion being withdrawn from Link ATMs a week.

However, the reduced footfall is putting a strain on the free ATM network and some quieter cash machines risk closure without help, Link said.

Link has already committed to maintain the overall spread of free ATMs across the UK. Some 3,800 free ATMs in remote, rural and deprived communities without another source of cash nearby come under this, as does the provision of cash in 6,500 UK high streets.

ATMs that risk being lost will be replaced through a mechanism that subsidises the installation of a replacement ATM by one of Link’s other member banks, building societies or ATM deployers.

Link said that until now, only a small number of ATM deployers have been involved in this mechanism.

Link said it is contacting its other ATM operating members to make the same pledge as Barclays, NatWest, PayPoint, and Sainsbury’s Bank.

The pledge will remain in place for one year to cover the period during which the impact of the Covid-19 crisis is most acute and will be reassessed annually.

John Howells, Link’s chief executive, said the pledge “guarantees access to cash for all consumers through these challenging times”.

Natalie Ceeney, independent chair of the Access to Cash Review said: “The Access to Cash Review warned that the UK is not ready to go cashless. The current health crisis shows how fragile the cash network is. This is a positive step by the industry to protect cash access for millions of customers who rely on it.”