People in some UK regions typically travel more than twice as far than others to find somewhere supplying cash, a report has found.
The research, led by the University of Bristol, looked at the average distances people across the UK need to travel to get access to cash without having to pay.
London residents can access free sources of cash within 326 metres on average.
Communities in Scotland, Wales and the south-west of England have to travel more than 600m on average.
In Northern Ireland, someone will typically travel 800m before they find some banknotes or coins.
Free-to-use ATMs, bank and building society branches, credit unions and Post Office branches were included in the research.
Places offering cashback, where someone may need to make a purchase first, and pay-to-use ATMs were excluded.
Work was carried out in partnership with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR).
While the the distance consumers must travel to get cash varies considerably depending on where they live, the research did find that free access to cash is readily available on nearly all (99%) of UK high streets within 500m.
But the number of free-to-use ATMs fell by almost a fifth (19%), a reduction of more than 10,000 machines, between March 2018 and March 2020.
This exceeds the fall in the number cash withdrawals from ATMs, which fell by 15% over the same period, researchers said.
There are now fewer than three free-to-use ATMs per pay-to-use ATM in deprived neighbourhoods, the report found. This is down from nearly four in 2018.
For people living in rural areas, Post Office branches play a particularly important role in providing access to cash.
Of those rural communities with only one nearby cash access point, Post Office branches are the nearest cash access point in more than 60% of cases, the report found.
Dr Daniel Tischer, lecturer in political economy and organisation studies at the University of Bristol, who led the study, said: “Our research confirmed that most UK consumers don’t have far to travel to access cash, however, there are important geographical differences which should not be ignored.
“The reduction in free-to-use options is also important and without intervention – it may get worse in future.”
The research was supported by ATM network Link, the Post Office, and UK Finance, which gave access to data.
Sheldon Mills, interim executive director of strategy and competition at the FCA, said: “Our work with the University of Bristol and the PSR shows that for the majority of people there is still good availability of free to access cash near to where they live and shop. However, there are gaps in provision, creating challenges for some communities and areas of the country.”
Eric Leenders, managing director of personal finance at UK Finance, said: “This report reaffirms the importance of ensuring the long-term sustainability of cash access and provides further insights on the issue as the Government sets out new legislation.”
Chris Hemsley, managing director at PSR, said: “Nobody should be left behind as digital payments continue to grow.”
John Howells, CEO of Link said: “Any community which feels it does not have good free access to cash should contact Link and we will investigate.”
Here are the average lengths in metres that people have to travel to find free sources of cash, according to the study:
– London, 326
– North East , 478
– North West, 488
– Yorkshire and the Humber, 555
– West Midlands, 556
– South East, 580
– Scotland, 614
– East Midlands, 616
– East of England, 642
– Wales, 661
– South West, 678
– Northern Ireland, 800