Over 250 free-to-use cash machines are disappearing across the UK every month, new findings reveal.
Figures from the operator of the largest network of cash machines in the country, Link, revealed that 1,300 ATMs were axed between January to the start of July.
With so many free ATM machines being removed, the Payment Systems Regulator has stepped in and claimed it will be cracking down on the sector in a bid to ensure there a a sufficient number of free ATMs available for shoppers to use.
Fresh fears have been raised over the rate of free-to-use ATM closures (PA)
But, Nicky Morgan, Chair of the Treasury Committee, has warned that the regulator’s intervention may be ‘too little, too late.’
Ms Morgan said: ‘The PSR is rightly concerned by the closures, but I fear its regulatory intervention may be too little, too late. It must ensure that Link is held to its commitment to maintain the broad geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs.’
At present, there are 53,000 free machines in the UK, but the number is shrinking as people use less cash.
Most of the cash machines closed were located in towns and cities and in areas where higher numbers of people reportedly use contactless or mobile payment methods.
In an update today, Link said: ‘The continuing adoption of new payment methods is reducing the demand for cash and therefore ATM withdrawals.
‘The ATM deployment market is responding by reducing the number of free ATMs independently of the interchange reduction.’
Responding to Link’s update, the PSR said: ‘Free-to-use ATMs continue to play a vital role in helping people access their money.’
Falling: At present, there are 53,000 free machines in the UK, but the number is shrinking as people use less cash
Hannah Nixon, the PSR’s managing director, said: ‘The requirements we intend to place on Link will help ensure that Link achieves their commitment to protecting the geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs across the UK.’
Link’s figures have prompted concern among consumer bodies.
Jenni Allen, managing director of consumer group Which? Money, said: ‘The rate at which free-to-use cashpoints are closing is alarming.’
She said the regulator ‘must now urgently intervene to stop further closures and ensure that no more consumers are suddenly stripped of their access to cash.’
Meanwhile David Clarke, head of policy at campaign group Positive Money, said the closures ‘risk leaving whole communities without access to cash, harming the over two million people who are wholly reliant on cash for their day-to-day shopping.’
Link’s figures also revealed that 76 of the cash machines axed between January and the start of July were ‘protected.’
A protected ATM is one that is over a kilometre from any other cash machine or place where cash can be accessed without charge. Link said 21 of the 76 closures did not meet the criteria and were under investigation.
Link has said it is committed to protecting free-to-use cash machines more than 1km away from their next nearest free-to-use ATM.
The firm said: ‘LINK is targeting all 2,365 of these free machines in remote and rural areas to remain open to preserve coverage, unless there is another source of cash access available or no consumer impact.’
The release of the figures follows a row over the funding of the ATM network.
Link previously confirmed it would go ahead with proposals to cut the fees operators receive from banks when ATMs are used.
Some bodies have raised concerns that thousands of free cash machines could be at risk of being removed or changed to fee-charging.
Link announced a phased reduction in interchange fees, which is the fee card issuers pay ATM operators. The first reduction came into force on 1 July, with a second due in January.
A third reduction, due in January 2020, was cancelled after a fall in the volume of ATM transactions, and a fourth due in January 2021 has been put on hold pending a review next year.