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Free-to-use ATMs vanishing at alarming rate, says Which?

·3-min read

Free-to-use cash machines are vanishing at an alarming rate, according to Which?

The consumer group said its latest analysis suggests there has been a spike in the number of people forced to pay to withdraw their own money from ATMs.

Some of the most deprived areas, where people are more likely to depend on cash, have seen a significant shift from free-to-use dispensers to machines that generally charge up to £2 per withdrawal in recent years, Which? found.

Which? wants to see a “clear blueprint” on the future of cash. The Government has previously pledged to legislate on the issue.

Which? said that, since 2018, two Birmingham constituencies – Hall Green and Hodge Hill – have experienced 44% and 40% reductions respectively in free-to-use ATMs, and both have seen a 59% increase in pay-to-use machines.

Nottingham East has seen 43% of free cash machines closed, but an 11% increase in pay-to-use machines, Which? said.

It said all three locations are within the top 10% for deprivation in England.

ATMs are the most commonly-used means of withdrawing cash, with UK Finance figures showing 91% of cash withdrawals took place through cash machines in 2019.

While there are other options, such as cashback and counter withdrawals that may play a greater role in future, ATMs currently remain an important indicator of access levels, Which? said.

Gareth Shaw, Which? head of money, said: “Everyone should have reasonable access to their own money without having to pay. Yet our research shows free cash machines are vanishing at an alarming rate – often in areas where people need them most.

“ATMs are only one piece of the jigsaw, and the Government needs to swiftly set out its plans for the future of cash.

“Legislation is a fundamental part of this, and there is an urgent need for a clear timeframe for when it will be in place, so that industry and regulators can work with the Government to ensure that cash is protected as a payment method for those who have no other option.”

Natalie Ceeney, chairwoman of the Access to Cash Review, said: “We are failing to spot the warning signs and are sleepwalking into a cashless society.

“Only last week the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) published new data showing that at least five million people depend on cash, and that 16% of the population are struggling with cash access and acceptance right now.

“Undoubtedly more people are comfortable with card and digital payments, but the bottom line is that not everyone is – in fact millions aren’t. We urgently need the promised legislation to protect cash for those who need it.”

John Howells, chief executive of ATM network Link said: “Link agrees with Which? and we welcome the Government’s commitment to legislate to protect access to cash.

“As lockdown restrictions ease and the economy begins to reopen, we will ensure every high street continues to have free access to cash for as long as it is needed.

“Link does not believe any consumer should be forced to pay to access their cash.

“Although the number of charging machines is significantly lower than in recent years, Link’s job is to make sure that every high street continues to have free access to cash.

“If any community believes they have a problem, they can get in contact with Link and we will investigate.”

Here are the percentage changes in the number of free-to-use ATMs in regions across England between January 2018 and December 2020, according to Which? (figures are taken from analysis of Link’s data):

1. London, minus 27%

=2. West Midlands, minus 25%

=2. Scotland, minus 25%

=4. North West, minus 23%

=4. Wales, minus 23%

=4. Northern Ireland, minus 23%

=4. East of England, minus 23%

=8. North East, minus 22%

=8. East Midlands, minus 22%

=8. South East, minus 22%

=8. South West, minus 22%

12. Yorkshire and the Humber, minus 21%

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