ATM network change proposals need 'urgent review'

2 May 2018, 07:11

Cash Machine

An "urgent review" of proposed changes to the ATM network is needed to ensure people are not left isolated, consumer organisation Which? has said.

The organisation claims proposals to reduce fees for card machine operators could lead to closures of free-to-use ATMs across the country and could have a "devastating impact" on small businesses and rural communities in Scotland.

LINK, the network responsible for 82% of all UK cash machine withdrawals, has announced a reduction of fees from 25p to 20p per withdrawal over four years.

It said there will be no change for free ATMs one kilometre or more from the next free ATM.

Research for Which? found one in five (19%) people in rural Scottish communities said their nearest free-to-use cash machine was already too far away to walk to, compared to 3% in urban areas.

When asked about the potential impact of closures, one-fifth (22%) said they would be less likely to use local shops that require them to pay in cash and one in seven (16%) said it would affect their ability to pay for products and services.

MSPs will discuss the issue in a debate at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) are calling on the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) to urgently intervene and review the potential implications the change will have for consumers if it leads to fewer ATMs.

Gareth Shaw, Which? money expert, said: "It's clear that free-to-use cashpoints play a vital role for the majority of Scottish people and that some, particularly in rural communities, face substantial challenges to accessing cash.

"We are calling on the financial regulator to conduct an urgent review to ensure that people aren't left isolated and can access the cash they need."

The survey of 1854 people in Scotland in April found almost one in 10 (8%) had used a fee-charging cash machine in the last month and of these a third (31%) did so because they could not find a free-to-use option.

The PSR said it has set out three key requirements for LINK, including that it must do whatever it takes to protect the current broad geographical spread of free-to-use (FTU) ATMs.

"The PSR and Which? share the same goal - that there needs to be a wide geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs so people can access their cash," a spokesman said.

"LINK must report its progress to us every month and we will hold it to account and take action if it doesn't deliver on its commitments."

Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse said: "This survey clearly demonstrates that there is a continuing need for cash to be readily available to all, and people in our communities need to know that they have secure, free access to cash to allow them to go about their daily lives. This is also vital for these local businesses such as hospitality businesses that continue to rely, at least to some extent, upon cash for transactions.

"We support calls to protect the ATM network, especially in rural communities and areas already affected by previous and proposed bank branch closures, where ATMs provide a life-line service to consumers and small businesses."

LINK said its plans are part of a move to re-balance the ATM network and has committed to protecting access to free machines.

A LINK spokesman said: "We want to re-balance ATMs from a proliferation in city centres to spread them to rural and poorer areas."

LINK said it will triple the financial inclusion subsidy from 10p up to 30p for ATMs in areas with poor cash-access.