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Cashpoint crunch: 250 free-to-use ATM machines disappearing every month

The Link network has announced that free-to-use ATMs are closing at an unprecedented rate sparking fears of a cash crisis in rural areas

Cashpoint crunch: 250 free-to-use ATM machines disappearing every month

Free-to-use cash machines are disappearing at a rate of 250 a month, the UK’s largest ATM network revealed today.

Link said there were just 53,200 non-charging machines at the beginning of July, compared with 54,500 on 1 February.

The Payments Systems Regulator (PSR) responded to the news by vowing to intensify its scrutiny of the UK’s ATM landscape.

Hannah Nixon, managing director of the PSR, said: ‘The requirements we intend to place on Link will help ensure that [it] achieves [its] commitment to protecting the geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs across the UK.’

A PSR spokesman later us that Link would be ordered to maintain a broad geographic spread of ATMs, and report their status on a regular basis.

Link said that only 76 of the disappearing ATMs were more than 1km from the nearest free-to-use machine, and therefore classified as ‘protected’.

However, this still amounted to 3% of the overall protected network, compared with a 2% shrinkage of the free-to-use estate as a whole.

Tell us about cash machine closures in your area: use our reporter tool.

Why are ATM machines disappearing?

Debit and credit cards overtook cash and coins as the most commonly used method of payment in the UK last year, and the number of cash withdrawals at ATMs is steadily falling.

However, the amount of money withdrawn from cash machines remained remained broadly unchanged between 2016 and 2017 at £194bn.

ATM operators argue that the sharp decline in machine numbers is a consequence of cuts to the interchange fee – the amount that your bank or building society pays the operator when you use your card to get free cash.

Link had proposed a phased 20% reduction to the interchange fee over the next three years. It had been under pressure from banks, who wanted to reduce their own costs.

But the network later U-turned, capping the reduction at 10% pending a review, after a Which? Money investigation exposed the rapid decline of ATM numbers.

Although the first interchange reduction of 5% did not kick in until 1 July, Link said today’s figures were in line with their expectations. Operators began closing machines in anticipation of a hit to their profits.

Chair of the Treasury Select Committee Nicky Morgan said: ‘Today’s figures show that, even before the interchange fee changes took effect, one protected ATM closed every other day. These protected ATMs will represent the only feasible means of accessing cash for many people, so this is a worrying trend.

‘The PSR is rightly concerned by the closures, but I fear its regulatory intervention may be too little, too late. It must ensure that Link is held to its commitment to maintain the broad geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs.’

Protecting ATMs in the countryside

Link’s cut to the interchange fee has been introduced alongside measures aimed at preserving free-to-use machines in remote areas.

The cut itself will not affect ‘protected’ machines, defined as being more than 1km from their nearest neighbour. In addition, a premium of 30p may be paid to operators for transactions on protected machines.

Which? has asked Link for information about exactly which ATMs are classified as protected.

Jenni Allen, managing director of Which? Money, said: ‘The rate at which free-to-use cashpoints are closing is alarming and it is clear that Link is failing on its commitment to protect access to cash for people in remote and rural areas who need it most.

‘The regulator was warned that these changes to the ATM network could have severe consequences for communities, businesses and millions of people who rely on cash, yet it waved them through without proper scrutiny.

‘The PSR must now urgently intervene to stop further closures and ensure that no more consumers are suddenly stripped of their access to cash,’ she added.

The decline in ATM numbers is happening in tandem with a slew of bank branch closures up and down the country. RBS recently announced it was axing a further 54 branches, while Lloyds Banking Group announced closures of 15 branches. 

This follows a Which? Money investigation earlier this year, which found that almost 3,000 bank branches had closed, or were due to close, between 2015 and the end of this year.

You can use the map below to explore where ATMs were distributed in April 2017, including the distance to the nearest one.

Report a cashpoint

If you’ve encountered problems with a local cashpoint, such as a lengthy walk to get to it, constant breakdowns or being out of cash most of the day – we want to hear about it. Your story could help us highlight the flaws in the current system and protect your access to cash.

Tell us about problems with a cashpoint in three steps:

  1. To find your cashpoint, enter a postcode or a place name, then select the size of area around it you want to search.
  2. Click/tap the red pin for the cashpoint you want to report – a window will appear with the name of the cashpoint and the fee (if any) that it charges.
  3. Click/tap ‘Report a problem’ and complete the form to tell us what’s wrong, or ‘Report closure’ if the cashpoint shown has closed down.

If your cashpoint isn’t shown, let us know here.

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