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Which? calls for urgent government action to protect access to cash

Some of England’s most deprived areas increasingly having to pay to withdraw cash, Which? finds

Which? calls for urgent government action to protect access to cash

Which? is calling for the government to take immediate action to protect cash access for the millions who rely on it, as our latest analysis shows a jump in the loss of free cash machines across the UK.

Our research shows some of England’s most deprived areas – where people are more likely to depend on cash – have seen a significant shift from free-to-use cashpoints to machines that generally charge up to £2 per withdrawal in recent years.

In last year’s Budget, the Chancellor announced legislation would be introduced to safeguard access for cash-dependent consumers, but one year on, there’s still no timetable in place for its introduction.

With the upcoming Budget on 3 March, we want the government to seize this opportunity to give assurances over protecting the cash system. We also want it to press ahead with giving the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) responsibility to oversee the protection of cash in the UK.


Where are free-to-use cash machines disappearing?

Which? found that all regions across the UK had lost between 21% and 27% of their free-to-use machines since 2018.

You can hover over your region on the map below to find out how many free-to-use ATMs have been lost and how many pay-to-use ATMs have been installed.


In both Northern Ireland and Scotland, the number of cashpoints that charge a fee has risen sharply, by 78% and 35% respectively, while the free-to-use network has shrunk by 23% and 25%.
In some of these regions, the number of pay-to-use facilities has surged over the same period.

The worst-hit areas

The tables below set out the 10 worst-hit constituencies we uncovered in our analysis.

Since 2018, two Birmingham constituencies – Hall Green and Hodge Hill – have seen 44% and 40% reductions in free-to-use ATMs respectively, but both had a 59% increase in pay-to-use machines.

Nottingham East has seen 43% of free cash machines closed, but an 11% increase in pay-to-use machines. All three locations are within the top 10% for deprivation in England.

Harrow East and Feltham and Heston – both in London – have seen the largest fall in the number of free-to-use ATMs, dropping by 56% and 46% respectively, while the number of pay-to-use machines has increased by 27% and 67%.

In Glasgow North West the number of free machines has fallen by 45% – from 86 to 47. Meanwhile, the number of pay-to-use cashpoints has shot up from 11 to 34, representing an increase of 209% over that period.

Why are ATM’s so important?

The results from our latest research are particularly concerning as previous research has shown that those in more deprived areas are more likely to use cash.

ATMs are the most commonly used means of withdrawing cash, with UK Finance figures showing that 91% of cash withdrawals took place through ATMs in 2019.

While there are other options, such as cashback and counter withdrawals which may play a greater role in future, ATMs currently remain an important indicator of access levels.

Has there been any progress over the past year?

It’s been a year since the Chancellor committed to cash access legislation but we have seen little progress so far.

The government is yet to set out its plans for the future of cash, to protect the people who have no other option than to use it as a payment method.

Regulators and industry groups – such as the FCA, Bank of England, and the Payment Systems Regulator, were also tasked with developing long-term solutions for the cash system but these have also failed to progress.

Earlier this month, Which? chief executive Anabel Hoult wrote to eight UK banks outlining the fragile state of the cash ecosystem and asked them to make a pledge to help maintain cash access.

Which? received widespread support from banks affirming the importance of providing a cash system that can serve those who depend on it.

Banks pointed to the importance of safeguarding the cash network for cash-dependent customers. There was general agreement that both Link – the UK’s largest cash machine network – and the Post Office have a crucial role to play in the short to medium-term future.

However, all of the responses stopped short of explicitly committing to either scheme until legislation is introduced.

Why action is needed now

There are two and a half million people in the UK who are reliant on cash to pay for essential products. A further seven million people say they would struggle without cash.

Separate Which? analysis shows that 13,000 cash machines have disappeared in just three years.

We believe people must be supported to make the transition to online banking where possible. But it is vital that the government also brings forward legislation to ensure appropriate provision of local and free access to cash remains viable nationwide for the foreseeable future.

There is an urgent need for a clear timeframe for when it will be in place, so that industry and regulators can work with the government to ensure that cash is protected as a payment method.

The Which? Money Podcast

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We believe that everyone should have the freedom to pay in the way that best suits their needs.

Check out our Freedom to Pay campaign to find out more about our mission to protect cash.

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