Communities ‘facing long journeys to make free ATM withdrawals’

Cuts to the UK’s cash machine network are leaving many communities facing long journeys to make withdrawals for free and some people struggling to access cash at all, Which? has found.

The consumer group’s analysis of data from UK cashpoint network Link found that residents in almost one in eight rural communities (12%), 153 postcode areas in total, that have lost their last free-to-use ATM face travelling at least one kilometre to their next one.

Some people may face travelling significant journeys by car, bus or even ferry to find a free-to-use ATM, its analysis suggests.

Which? said some cash machines have closed despite being given “protected” status by Link – in recognition of their critical importance to local people and businesses.

It said that overall, 194 “protected machines” closed between January 2018 and July 2019.

A statement from Link said: “Link will ensure that all ATMs in remote communities are protected and replaced if necessary unless there is a post office nearby.

“This is because all post office counters offer free access to cash and the post master receives a valuable income from the banks by providing the service.

“Link intends to support the Post Office as it is a service much valued by local communities, and especially those in more remote and rural areas.

“The protected areas highlighted by Which? have post offices and so Link does not intend to subsidise competing ATMs in these areas.”

But Which? said its research found that some areas did not have a post office handy and some branches had restricted opening hours.

It argued that while post office branches can provide a “valuable back-up or alternative to an ATM”, they are not a direct substitute for a cashpoint.

Which? said many rural areas also suffer with patchy broadband and mobile services – making it difficult for some people and businesses to switch to online banking and digital payments as a reliable alternative when convenient access to cash is cut.

Among the communities in Which?’s analysis:

– Gargunnock in Scotland lost its high street cashpoint, and residents face travelling more than nine kilometres to find another free option.

– Residents of Harlech in Wales are now 10km from their nearest free-to-use machine.

– People in Naseby in Northamptonshire lost their last ATM on the high street and now face a 20-minute journey by public transport to access a free-to-use machine that is six kilometres away.

– Residents in Cerrigydrudion in Wales have to travel 13.5km for a free-to-use ATM, which is 40 minutes by bus.

– A ferry ride or 40-minute car journey is now required for the people of Tighnabruaich in Scotland to access a free machine, which is 37km away.

Link recently announced an initiative to provide cashpoints to under-resourced areas.

Which? said it believes that legislation is needed to guarantee that consumers can continue to access and pay with cash for as long as it is needed.

Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “A lack of proper oversight has seen thousands of cash machines and bank branches around the country closing – leaving whole communities cut off from the cash local people and businesses desperately need.

“To date, voluntary measures from industry to ensure people can still access cash have been woefully insufficient.”

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman Mike Cherry, said: “Cash deserts threaten to create small business deserts.

“Millions of consumers still value the use of notes and coins, and if they can’t access their money freely, that hurts spending with local small firms.

“Small business owners shouldn’t have to spend time and money travelling miles to their nearest free-to-use cashpoint – time and money that should be spent growing their firms. There’s also the environmental impact of this travel to consider.”

A spokesman for ATM operator Cardtronics said: “Independent ATM operators such as ourselves have had to modify our business models in order to continue providing a service to bank customers in suburban and rural communities that banks no longer serve.”

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