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Cash machine charges under fire

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Cash machines charging customers for making withdrawals are becoming more common and MPs want more action to protect consumers from the fees. Andrew Partridge finds out more  
UK banks, government departments and trade bodies have “been passing the buck” over ATM charges, according to a committee of MPs.

The Treasury Select Committee’s chairman, John McFall MP, told a parliamentary hearing that cash machine charges should be made more transparent, to convince the public that there was no “veil of secrecy” over the level of the charges.

He said that warnings over charges were vague, and that machines which claimed customers “may” be charged when they used the machines were disingenuous.

McFall said it was “essential” for the industry to provide consumers with clearer information over the charges, to enable them to make more informed choices about whether to use a charging cash machine.

He added: “When I go to a petrol station, I see a clear sign in large numbers showing the price per litre. The question we were asking is why can there not be a similar high standard of transparency for cash machine charges.

“It seems that the industry, the OFT and the individual government departments are passing the buck, rather than engaging in a serious and systematic analysis of the issue.”

While McFall admitted some progress over charges had been made after LINK providers had promised to provide clearer information over the level of any charges, he claimed more needed to be done.

Nationwide Building Society, which does not charge for making withdrawals from its ATMs, welcomed the call for more transparency over ATM charges.

Nationwide executive director Stuart Bernau said: “We have campaigned on this issue for a number of years and I have this week written to the chief executives of banks and building societies urging them to do the right thing and protect consumers by committing to keep free ATMs. Consumers are overwhelmingly against charges but we fear that unless there is concerted action by the industry, free ATMs could disappear.

He added that the fees were substantial: “Nationwide forecasts that consumers will pay £250m in 2006 to access their own money from cash machines.”

In total nearly 22,000 of the UK’s 54,000 cash machines charge for cash withdrawals. 

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