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Communities cut off from cash

Written by: Emma Lunn
Widespread cuts to the UK’s ATM network are leaving thousands of people facing long journeys to make free cash withdrawals.

The problem of accessing free ATM withdrawals appears to be getting worse, with some people struggling to access cash at all, according to Which?

The consumer champion analysed data from Link – the UK’s biggest cashpoint network – and found that when their local free cashpoint is lost, people in rural communities have to travel three times further on average than those in urban areas to get to the next nearest free cash machine.

Residents in almost one in eight rural communities (12 per cent) – 153 postcode areas in total – that lost their last free machine must travel at least 1km to their nearest fee-free ATM.

In the most extreme examples people are facing journeys of more than half an hour on public transport to reach a free cashpoint.

‘Protected’ ATMs closing

Which? says that some of these cash machines have closed despite being given ‘protected’ status by Link – in recognition of their critical importance to local people and businesses.

For example, residents in Harlech, Wales lost their protected machine on the high street and are now 10km away from the next free option. The area is also not served by a Post Office.

But residents of Tighnabruaich in Scotland have it much worse. They need to endure a ferry ride or 40-minute car journey to access the nearest free-to-use machine, which is 37km miles away. Alternatively, the area has a Post Office 2km away, which is open during working hours, as well as an ATM charging £1.99 per withdrawal.

Overall, 194 ‘protected machines’ closed between January 2018 and July 2019, according to figures from Link.

For some communities, Post Office branches can provide a valuable back-up or alternative to an ATM, as they offer some everyday banking services such as cash withdrawals and cash deposits. However, Which? says they are not a direct substitute for a cashpoint.

Access to cash

Last week, Link announced an initiative that aims to provide cashpoints to under-resourced areas, and UK Finance said it would provide support for communities – such as helping people with the transition to digital payment methods.

Which? is encouraging communities across the UK to use these schemes and will be monitoring their effectiveness.

However, to stop cash machines closing in the short term, or converting to charge fees in areas where they are most needed, Which? is calling on the Payment Systems Regulator to take control of cashpoint interchange fees, changes to which were a catalyst for the widespread closures seen in recent months.

Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “A lack of proper oversight has seen thousands of cash machines and bank branches around the country closing – leaving whole communities cut off from the cash local people and businesses desperately need.

“To date, voluntary measures from industry to ensure people can still access cash have been woefully insufficient. The government must intervene by introducing legislation that guarantees consumers can continue to access and pay with cash for as long as it is needed.”

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