Hundreds of cash machines close as UK turns to contactless payments

Which? says ATMs around the country are shutting down and rural operators are worst hit

Cash machines around the UK are closing at a rate of 300 every month, with rural communities worst hit, according to an analysis by Which?.

Almost 1,500 machines on the Link network shut down between November 2017 and April 2018, partly because the dramatic increase in contactless payments for small transactions is making cash less necessary.

But campaigners have said a planned cut in fees paid by banks for each withdrawal, beginning on 1 July, is already making it more difficult for independent operators to survive, particularly in thinly-populated areas.

The UK currently has around 70,000 ATMs, and more than 97% of withdrawals are from free-to-use machines. But from Sunday the fee paid by the banks for each withdrawal will be cut from 25p to 24p, the first stage of a phased reduction down to 20p.

The cut may appear small, but independent operators, which run many of the machines in convenience stores in remote locations, have said it is likely to make many ATMs unprofitable.

Which? said the pace of closures has accelerated rapidly since 2015, and that cutbacks are deepest in rural areas, despite promises by the Link network to maintain access.

The consumer rights organisation and the Federation of Small Businesses have launched a Save Our Cashpoints campaign, calling for a review to fully evaluate the impact the cuts will have on communities and consumers’ ability to use cash payments.

But Link said the UK’s current ATM network – with 80% of machines within 300 metres of another cash point – is unsustainable as cash usage plummets.

Earlier this month the banking industry body UK Finance said that debit card payments had overtaken cash as the most popular form of payment in the UK for the first time.

Consumers used their debit cards 13.2bn times last year, up 14% compared with 2016. The number of cash transactions fell by 15% to 13.1bn transactions in the same period.

Link said: “Over the last 10 years cash payments have fallen by 33%, during the same period free ATM numbers have grown [to] 18,000 (50%). This disconnect is not sustainable and needs addressing now to protect Link and future access to cash for consumers.”

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It said it was aiming to protect rural communities by reducing the “interchange” fee in busy centres but increasing it in more remote areas.

But others remain suspicious about the banks’ motives, with an agenda to force consumers away from cash. David Clarke, the head of policy and advocacy at the not-for-profit financial campaign group Positive Money, said: “More than two million people rely almost exclusively on cash every day. There is still massive demand for cash, with 77% of people seeing free access to cash as essential for [their] lives. It is only a minority of people who are going completely cashless.

“This is all about the banks wanting to cut the fees they have to pay rather than anything else. Link has been forced into these cuts by the banks who are threatening to move to Visa and Mastercard schemes where the fees are even lower, but which would result in much deeper cuts to the free ATM network.”

Contributor

Patrick Collinson

The GuardianTramp

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