Widespread cuts to the UK’s cash machine network have left many rural communities facing long journeys to make free withdrawals, and some people struggling to access cash at all, new research from Which? reveals.
We’ve analysed official data from Link – the UK’s largest ATM network – and found that disappearing free-to-use cashpoints are having a more drastic impact on people who live outside of major towns and cities.
In the most extreme cases, residents are now facing journeys of more than half an hour on public transport to reach a free cashpoint.
Find out how the changes have affected different rural communities around the country and what you can do to protect cash.
Where are the nearest ATMs in rural areas?
Between January 2018 and May 2019, some 5,334 free machines were either closed or converted to fee-paying.
When a free machine is lost in a rural area, people have to travel three times further to find an alternative than they would if they lived in a town or city, our analysis revealed.
Worse still, almost one in eight (12%) rural communities that lost a free ATM now have to travel more than 1km to the nearest machine that doesn’t charge for withdrawals.
Which areas are hardest hit?
Among the thousands of places which lost free ATMs during the last 18 months, more than 150 are now more than 1km from their nearest alternative.
These include Gargunnock in Scotland, where the nearest free-to-use option is over 9km away. The mobile Post Office which services the area is only open nine hours a week.
Residents of Cerrigydrudion in Wales must travel 13.5km to the next free ATM, equating to a 40 minute bus ride. The alternatives are a Post Office, or machines that charge a fee to access your money.
The nearest free ATM to Harlech in Wales is 10km away – and there’s no Post Office in town – while the closest free option to Naseby in Northamptonshire is 6km away.
In the most extreme example, the people of Tighnabruaich in Scotland must take a ferry ride, or a 40-minute car journey, to access the nearest free machine, which is 37km miles away. The area has a Post Office 2km away, which is open during working hours or a fee-charging (£1.99) machine.
Below we map some of the journeys residents must now make just to find a free ATM.
Barclays quits the Post Office
Our latest research comes as Barclays announced yesterday that their customers will no longer be able to withdraw cash from the Post Office from 8 January 2020.
The bank – which closed 481 branches in the last four years – had previously cited access to nearby Post offices as a mitigating factor when shutting down branches.
The Post Office has recently signed a deal with 28 other banks to provide cash and cheque services at its branches as part of a new agreement.
Meanwhile, Barclays has promised not to close any branch that is the ‘last in town’ for the next two years. In addition, it is launching a cashback scheme, whereby customers can make withdrawals from businesses in parts of the country that are not conveniently served by ATMs.
In response to the move from Barclays, Which? called for the government to introduce legislation protecting cash in the UK.
Jenny Ross said: “Barclays’ shocking decision exposes the fragility of the UK’s cash system, and blows apart industry claims that the Post Office network is a solution to the cash crisis.
“This latest move highlights how easily we could drift into a cashless society if we rely on disjointed industry initiatives alone.
“The Government must step in and introduce legislation that guarantees consumers can continue to access and pay with cash for as long as it is needed.”
Freedom to Pay Our Way
Which? has been fighting to protect access to cash for the millions of people who rely on it day to day, and as an alternative during banking outages and IT failures.
Meanwhile, Link and UK Finance have established a fund enabling communities to apply for cash machines and funding for alternative solutions.
Despite the positive steps made by industry, we believe the government should take direct action by introducing legislation.
Which? Money Editor, Jenny Ross, said: “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.”
You can find out more about our ‘Freedom to pay. Our way’ campaign and sign the petition calling for better protections on cash access.
You can also share your views by joining the discussion at Which? Conversation.