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2 Oct 2019

Communities hit by cash machine closures can now request a free ATM

New initiative by Link aims to protect access to cash

As cash machines become scarcer on UK high streets, people can now suggest new sites for ATMs in their local communities to ATM network provider Link.

In addition, trade body UK Finance has pledged funds and advice to local communities hit by cash infrastructure closures.

The Community Access to Cash Initiative aims to promote the ability to take out and spend cash, particularly in rural communities. But Which? warns that more needs to be done to protect cash in the UK.

We explain how the latest initiative will affect your community and why access to cash is a vital issue.

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Request an ATM

Which? Money recently revealed that poorer areas were worst affected by the loss of free cash machines. One in 10 of Britain's free-to-use cash machines either closed or started charging a fee over the past 17 months. Meanwhile, our research found that more than a third of bank branches have closed in less than five years.

You can see where the largest percentage of ATMs have closed on the map below.

As part of the Community Access to Cash Delivery Fund, Link invited members of the public to email in suggestions for new sites for a free cash machine.

Applications will be weighed up on a case-by-case basis, depending on factors such as distance to nearest free ATM, the availability of a nearby Post Office and site security. In particular, Link will consider whether there is another ATM within 1km, and whether there are any geographic challenges (like a steep hill or busy highway) that would stop residents reaching it.

Where the application is successful, Link will fund the new ATM.

To suggest a site, you can email info@link.co.uk

Funding to protect access to cash

In Monday's announcement, UK Finance reiterated its commitments to Link and to personal finance services provided by the Post Office.

It also announced that local government officials would be invited to apply for funding and advice on alternative cash solutions in situations 'where an ATM is not appropriate or required'.

The body suggested communities might seek funding for digital education awareness programmes, promoting cashback at local retailers and connecting with new partners. Applications can be submitted via Link's website from 31 October 2019 through to 31 January 2020.

Stephen Jones, chief executive of UK Finance, said: 'The banking and finance industry is committed to ensuring access to cash remains free and widely accessible for those that continue to need it. Yet there is no “one size fits all” approach, and only via collaboration across government, regulators, industry, customer groups and communities can this be achieved.'

ATM closures in rural communities

The number of free ATMs has been decreasing broadly across the UK, in line with changing consumer behaviour. Cash accounted for 28% of total payments last year, down from 60% a decade earlier.

Yet the move towards a more digital society is leaving people behind. Millions - including people in rural communities, the disabled and the elderly - may still rely on cash on a day-to-day basis, but are finding it increasingly harder to withdraw money.

Recent Which? research found that of the 5,000 free-to-use ATMs lost in the between January 2018 and May 2019, most were concentrated in areas that were more rural and more deprived.

Link have implemented a number of measures to help stem the decline of free ATMs. Among them is a pilot scheme to fund free-to-use ATMs in communities with poor access to cash. Some 11 sites have now been targeted by the scheme, with an initiative in York announced today.

Which? research also recently found that the parliamentary constituencies worst hit by bank branch closures were typically rural. Wentworth and Dearne in Yorkshire has become the first constituency to be left without a bank branch following three closures in recent years.

This map shows you where and when current account providers have closed branches in the last four and half years.

Alternatively, you can use this tool to look up how your local area has been affected.

Which? calls for greater protection

While Which? welcomed the new initiative by UK Finance, it called on the regulator to introduce legislation to protect cash infrastructure across the UK.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: 'Millions of people who need cash are at risk of being cut off from paying for vital goods and services, so it's clear urgent intervention is needed. Encouraging communities to report gaps in local cash access must lead to quick action and tangible results.

'Although voluntary industry initiatives to protect cash are encouraging we can't rely on them to guarantee cash access in the long term. The government must urgently introduce 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.