Treasury Committee seeks assurances over free-to-use ATMs

MPs are seeking assurances over the accessibility of free-to-use ATMs amid concerns that proposals for the future funding of cash dispensers could see a significant reduction in their numbers.

Nicky Morgan, who chairs the influential Treasury Committee, has written to Sir Mark Boleat, chairman of the UK's Link network, about a recently-launched consultation on the future level of a fee.

Sir Mark has said Link does not envisage any scenario where there will be areas of the UK where people will not continue to have free access to their money.

The consultation followed a row which erupted over the interchange fees paid by card issuers such as banks and building societies to ATM operators. The interchange fee funds the free-to-use ATM network.

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

Link has said the plans will help to retain an extensive network of free ATMs for consumers.

But trade body the ATM Industry Association has warned that "ATM deserts" could be created.

Referring to reports that there may be a significant reduction in the number of free-to-use ATMs, Ms Morgan says in the letter: "This would clearly be of concern to the Treasury Committee, not least given the Committee's interest in financial inclusion and ATM provision in the past."

The letter continues: "It seems intuitive that a 20% reduction in the interchange fee received by an ATM operator may mean that some machines are no longer economically viable."

Ms Morgan says she understands that Link's financial inclusion programme is designed to ensure that subsidies are provided when an ATM is not viable.

The letter asks what assurances can be provided to the Treasury Committee that the proposals will preserve the existing geographical spread of ATMs and have no negative impact on financial inclusion.

It also asks how many ATMs are projected to close as a result of the proposals and what arrangements will be in place to monitor ATM closures and/or fees that would lead to consumer detriment.

Link has previously said the number of cash machines in the UK is currently at near record levels, with more than 70,000 ATMs across the country, around 80% of which are free for consumers.

Sir Mark said: "Link is committed to maintaining an extensive free network of ATMs for consumers for years to come.

"Link's independent Board believes that reform is required to interchange and that it is currently too high. 

"In particular, we do not see the growth of ATMs that is under way as sustainable, given the declining use of cash for making payments.

"The Board believes that its proposals will protect the future of the Link network and will deliver the right outcome for consumers.

"The UK currently has around 70,000 ATMs, with around 55,000 of them being free-to-use.

"We do not envisage any scenario where there will be areas of the UK which will not continue to have free access to their money.

"Our proposals include a strong financial inclusion programme that will ensure that there is positive impact on financial inclusion."

Link is seeking views by November 30 before a final decision on January 31 2018, which will be implemented on April 1 next year.

Ron Delnevo, executive director of the ATM Industry Association Europe, said: "It is wonderful news that the TSC (Treasury Select Committee) is examining this threat to financial inclusion with the urgency that it warrants."

He continued: "It is now essential that Link addresses these concerns with adequate and detailed responses."

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