Shocking cash machine chargesFew motorway service stations have free ATMs

25 January 2013

Withdrawing money from a cash machine

Almost all motorway service stations only have cash machines which charge a fee for withdrawals, according to research by Which?

Just six of the 98 service stations in England, Scotland and Wales have a free-to-use ATM (automated teller machine) in the main building. Other fee-charging ATMs cost between £1.85 and £1.99 per cash withdrawal despite opposition from the public to pay such fees.

In a survey of Which? members, we found that 96% of them resent being charged to withdraw money from an ATM.

Find out how to prevent debit and credit card fraud when using an ATM by following the advice in our guide.

ATMs at motorway services

In total there are 328 fee-charging cash machines in motorway service stations compared with just 18 free-to-use ones at six sites, according to our analysis of data supplied by Link, which co-ordinates the cash machine network.

Those six sites are located at Heart of Scotland services, the J38 Truckstop, Rivington Services, Stop24 Services (Folkestone), and both northbound and southbound Tebay Services.

However, data shows there are free-to-use ATMs located at petrol stations on the same site of 23 motorway service stations. And when we visited five service stations in different parts of the country, we found three had shops in the main building offering cashback, though this wasn’t signposted to customers.

Moto, the UK's largest motorway service station operator, said ATM charges were levied by machine operators and not them and added cash machine usage on its sites it declining as customers increasingly use chip and PIN debit cards for small transactions.

Action point: If you need to withdraw money at a service station, try asking for cashback in a shop or, if there’s a petrol station, see if it has a free-to-use ATM.

Anger at being charged for cash withdrawals at ATMs

In our survey of Which? members we found that almost 77% refuse to use fee-paying cash machines on principle and the great majority would rather wait or walk further to find a free cash machine.

We found that of the people we surveyed, 37% of those who had withdrawn money from a fee-charging cash machine did so at a local shop, while 32% used one at a motorway service station.

Of the 9% of Which? members who had used a fee-paying cash machine in the past two years, 82% felt that they had no other choice.

Have your say about cash machines which charge a fee for withdrawals at Which? Conversation.

Cash machine usage in the UK

Cash machines are the most popular method of cash withdrawal in the UK - in 2011 people used ATMs a record 2.87 billion times withdrawing £19 billion in the process - and while the majority are free to use, plenty charge a fee ranging from 75p to £10. 

The number of fee-charging machines fell by 978 in the last year to 20,851, and the number of free-to-use ATMs grew by 2,771 to 45,033 (68% of the UK network).

ATMs in affluent and deprived areas

Despite that trend, when we carried out a snapshot survey we found two deprived areas in London had far fewer free cash machines than more affluent parts of the city. 

We found 10 ATMs within a half mile radius of a postcode in Hackney Wick. All charged a fee of between £1.75 and £1.85 and only two shops with cash machines in them offered cashback.

In Tottenham, 27 of the 35 cash machines we found charged a fee (£1.50-£1.85). Of the eight that were free to use, five were at a large Tesco store and two at a nearby post office. This meant fee-charging machines were often the most convenient choice. 

Meanwhile, in affluent Hampstead, just four of 15 cash machines charged for withdrawals. And of the 49 cash machines we found in the part of well-to-do Kensington and Chelsea we visited, just eight charged and four of these were in members-only casinos.

Cash machine concerns

Which? has never opposed fee-paying cash machines on a blanket basis, as we believe they can be a useful supplement to a basic network of free machines offered by the banks. 

While we recognise the number of free-to-use machines is increasing and fee-paying machines are decreasing, we think the banks and private cash machine operators need to keep working together to give more people more chance to access to their money for free.

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