10,000 free ATMs vanish in just two years, report warns

10,000 free ATMs vanish in just two years as cashpoints that charge for withdrawals jump by a quarter, report warns

  • Research noted a dramatic decline in machines offering free cash withdrawals 
  • Communities in Wales, Scotland and the South West must travel the furthest for free cash, meaning the elderly and infirm are underserved 
  • Affluent areas have up to five free ATMs for each pay-to-use machine, a new joint report has found

More than 10,000 free cash machines have been withdrawn in just two years, according to a report out today.

The total fell by a fifth between March 2018 and the same month this year.

Over the two-year period the number charging up to £2 for cash withdrawals jumped by a quarter in the most deprived parts of the country.

Communities in Wales, Scotland and the South West must travel the farthest, shows the research from the University of Bristol, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Payment Systems Regulator.

Dr Daniel Tischer, a lecturer in political economy at Bristol, led the research and said: ‘If current trends continue, older people and those on low incomes may find themselves in a position where they have to pay for cash, or face walking longer distances which may not always be possible, especially for those suffering from poor health.’

Pay-to-use ATMs are owned by private operators, not banks, and typically charge a flat fee of at least 95p per withdrawal. The report found that the ratio of free ATMs to pay-to-use dispensers in deprived neighbourhoods has fallen from four to one to under three to one.

More than 10,000 free cash machines have been withdrawn in just two years, according to a report out today from the University of Bristol, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Payment Systems Regulator [Stock image]

Affluent areas have up to five free ATMs for each pay-to-use machine. The 19 per cent decline in free cash machines – leaving the total at 43,935 in March – exceeded the 15 per cent drop-off in withdrawals. The report provides the first clear map of cash access across the UK and reveals a startling postcode lottery.

It found 70 per cent of neighbourhoods do not have free access to cash within 250 metres, excluding cashback, falling to 10 per cent within one kilometre. London residents have to travel an average of 326 metres for free access to cash, compared with 678 metres and 800 metres for those in the South West and Northern Ireland respectively.

Dr Tischer said the researchers were concerned about the rise of pay-to-use machines in vulnerable communities, where families tended to be more reliant on cash. He added that while most residents ‘don’t have far to travel to access cash’, regional inequalities could not be ignored.

Pay-to-use ATMs are owned by private operators, not banks, and typically charge a flat fee of at least 95p per withdrawal [Stock image]

John Howells, chief executive at ATM network LINK, said: ‘All communities should have free access to cash and the University of Bristol’s work shows the need to act now to protect the free ATM network which is at risk due to the sharp decline in cash usage.’

The figures come weeks after the Post Office said it was scrapping nearly a third of its 2,000 free-to-use ATMs.

Cash use fell sharply during the pandemic, with some retailers asking customers to pay by card. But many people still rely on cash and there are concerns over rural and deprived communities being cut off.

Eric Leenders of the trade body UK Finance said: ‘The banking and finance industry recognises that cash is essential for communities and is committed to ensuring that access to cash remains free and widely accessible to those who need it.’

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