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26 Feb 2020

UK's free cash system is on the brink of collapse: could you help save it?

Double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures means we must now act now

Which? is urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to protect cash access at his first Budget, amid industry warnings that the UK's free cash system could fall apart in 'the next year or two'.

Some 9,500 free-to-use cash machines disappeared in the past two years, amounting to a staggering 17% of the network. More than 1,200 bank branches have closed in the same period.

Link - the UK's largest cashpoint network - has said the free cash system will collapse within just two years without government intervention.

  • Help us to save cash: Today at 10am we'll be calling on the Treasury to take action.

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Free cashpoint network 'falling apart'

Which? Money has documented the rapid decline in the UK's banking and cashpoint networks over the past few years, and has recently launched a tool to help cash-starved communities have their voices heard.

We've collected 3,153 cash machine requests from members of the public who told us their town or village needs a free cashpoint. We've then forwarded these requests to Link.

But with Link indicating that it has only allocated funding for around 100 new machines, it's now clear that the government must intervene.

John Howells, CEO of Link, said: 'The precipitous decline of cash usage underway is already placing severe strain on the UK's cash infrastructure.

'Link, with the banks' support, has maintained free ATM coverage so far, and will be able to continue to do so for the next year or two, but without government support, the infrastructure will start to fall apart.'

Areas worst hit by the cash crisis

The decline of free cash machines has been a consistent trend throughout almost all corners of the UK. However, some areas have been hit worse than others.

The map below shows where ATM requests have been made across the UK.

Ward End in Birmingham has lost 91% of it's free-to-use machines in the past two years, seeing the total collapse from 11 to one.

Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath East ward, also in Birmingham, have seen 19 free-to-use cash machines reduced to three, while East Ham North in London has seen its total of eight fall to two.

Meanwhile, several wards home to thousands of people have also lost their last free-to-use cashpoint.

Royston Heath in North Hertfordshire, East Malling in Kent and Essington in Staffordshire South all lost access to a free machine, despite having populations above 5,000.

The town with no free cashpoints

We visited residents and businesses in Harlech, North Wales, to get a sense of the impact that losing the last free cash machine can have on a community. You can watch the video below.

Communities left behind by the digital revolution

We previously found that poorer constituencies were more likely to see their free-to-use cash machines disappear, and that rural communities were fare more likely to lose their bank branches.

You can see where most branches have closed across the UK in our guide on bank branch closures.

Meanwhile, Which? research has found that most people have just one current-account provider and a third never carry cash, leaving them with few options when IT systems fail.

Time to act to save cash access

The upcoming Budget will decide the future of cash, and it's a huge opportunity for the government to act to protect the millions of people who still rely on it.

  • Today at 10am we'll be calling on the Treasury to take action.

Gareth Shaw, Which? head of money, said: 'Many people have been left struggling from the double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures - and suffered at the hands of industry mismanagement that has left Britain's cash landscape on the verge of collapse.

'This Budget will decide the future of cash. The Chancellor has a huge opportunity here to protect cash for the millions of people who rely on it,' he added.

Both Which? and Link are calling for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to take action to guarantee people's ability to access and pay with cash.