MPs urge constructive discussions in ATM funding row

A powerful committee of MPs has urged bodies involved in a row over the future funding of the UK's free-to-use ATM network to "engage constructively" to reach an acceptable agreement.

Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury Committee, has written to Sir Mark Boleat, chairman of cash machine network Link, to urge all those involved - including Link, banks and ATM deployers - to engage constructively in the process to reach an acceptable agreement - following concerns over how consumers' access to cash could be affected.

The row concerns interchange fees - which fund the free-to-use ATM network. These interchange fees are paid by card issuers such as banks and building societies to ATM operators.

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Consultation plans previously outlined by Link include a reduction in interchange rates over the next four years, from around 25p to 20p per withdrawal.

The Treasury Committee said it has received representations that the consultation process has been rushed, and has lacked a suitable degree of transparency.

The committee said its overriding priority is that consumers' ability to access cash does not suffer.

Mrs Morgan has also written to Hannah Nixon, managing director of the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), to urge it to step in if it feels any party is not engaging appropriately in constructive discussions.

The PSR has previously said it is monitoring the situation closely.

Mrs Morgan said: "The relevant parties - Link, the banks, and the ATM deployers - must engage constructively in the consultation.

"If they don't, or if consumer access to cash is at risk, the PSR should not hesitate to take appropriate action."

She continued: "As bank closures increase, so too does the reliance on free-to-use ATMs. The ability of consumers to access cash must not suffer.

"We'll monitor developments closely. If there is a risk of unacceptable consumer detriment, the committee will consider taking oral evidence from Link, individual banks, and independent ATM deployers."

Link's independent board said earlier this month that it will protect all free-to-use ATMs which are a kilometre or more from the next nearest free-to-use ATM.

Sir Mark said: "The Link board's intention is to set the level of interchange at a level that will retain an extensive network of free ATMs for consumers, particularly in rural and deprived areas, whilst avoiding the growth in ATM numbers that has occurred over recent years."

He said views have been sought and "the board is now carefully considering all representations".

Sir Mark said it is expected that the board's decision will be published by January 31 2018.

Link has said it does not expect significant numbers of machines to close immediately as a result of the proposals.

It has said the plans are designed to maintain the present geographical spread of ATMs, with any reduction being in areas where there are currently multiple ATMs clustered together. Around 80% of free-to-use ATMs are within 300 metres of another free-to-use machine.

The PSR has said it is taking steps to understand how Link intends to take into account the feedback it receives, and assess the implications of its proposals for the provision of ATMs.

The PSR said: "If we consider that any decision Link makes is not in the interests of consumers, and is therefore inconsistent with our statutory objectives, we will take regulatory action as necessary."