Every high-street will be guaranteed free access to cash, under a new scheme launched today by UK cash machine network, Link – while five communities with poor access to cash will receive a new ATM.
Around 3,000 cash machines vanished in the last six months of 2018, while 1,250 free cash machines switched to charging a fee during March 2019 alone, reflecting the worrying reduction in both bank branches and ATMs over the past few years.
As the scheme’s first move, the remote village of Durness in the Scottish Highlands – British mainland’s most north-westerly village, known for its scenic, rocky coastlines – will receive a new free-to-use ATM.
Locals had previously made a case to Link saying that the village was suffering from a lack of access to cash.
Find out how the government has responded to the UK’s disappearing ATMs, and why cash needs to be protected.
How will Link’s new scheme protect cash?
In addition to the five newly-commissioned cash machines, Link will also be protecting access to cash for every UK high street.
Link says that if any high street with five or more ‘qualifying retailers’ is faced with the loss of an ATM or Post Office, it will ensure an ATM is made available.
A qualifying retailer counts as most shops, but doesn’t include things like restaurants or cash and carries.
The new ATMs, Link says, will be paid for by the UK’s main banks and building societies.
Gareth Shaw, Head of Money, Which?, said: ‘This long-overdue action on cash machines is hugely welcome – but these measures on their own are unlikely to be enough to stem the tide of ATM closures that has left communities across the UK struggling to access cash.
‘The government’s new access to cash strategy group must urgently explore all options – including legislation – to ensure a robust system is in place to preserve free access to cash for as long as people need it.’
How many free-to-use ATMs have disappeared?
Not only are cash machines closing at an alarming rate across the UK, but those that remain operational are also increasingly charging you to withdraw your money.
In March alone, some 1,250 ATMs started charging fees, Which? research has found.
Following the Access to Cash review published earlier this year, the Treasury Committee urged the government to act on the review’s recommendations designed to protect people’s ability to use cash across the UK.
In May, as a response to the review, the government committed to establishing a new committee to oversee the cash system and ensuring the cash infrastructure meets the needs of the people who need to use it.
However, when the Treasury Committee later suggested banks share funding for banking services at local post offices in towns where the last bank branch had closed to form ‘banking hubs’, the government turned down the proposal.
Why does access to cash matter?
Which? research has found that it is often the most vulnerable members of society who need access to cash the most. Despite digital payments becoming increasingly popular, it’s estimated that around 2.2 million people still rely on cash in their day-to-day lives.
In some towns and villages, the local Post Office is the last lifeline to access any cash, but with many operating restricted business hours it’s often not easy for some residents to get there.
Which? also believes that removing cash as a payment option would be harmful for everyone. Every day, at least one major UK bank experiences an IT outage that prevents payment processing, Which? previously found.
NatWest and RBS websites have experienced problems just this week; while Barclays topped a BBC list of banks with the most IT outages. Visa and TSB have also experienced high profile IT failures in recent months.
This shows how unreliable electronic payment methods can be, and highlights the need for a cash alternative that’s accessible to everyone.
Which? calls for Freedom to Pay. Our way.
As the UK increasingly embraces digital payments, Which? is campaigning to ensure we protect cash as a payment option.
While Which? welcomes the government’s appointment of a committee to oversee cash, it encouraged the new body to act urgently to address rapid changes to the cash landscape.
To support our ‘Freedom to Pay. Our way’ campaign, you can sign up to our petition.