Battle is on to save remote ATMs

The battle is on to save free-to-use ATMs in remote areas across the country which are often the only source of cash for rural communities.

Link – the company that runs the ATM network – is to increase the fees it pays to cash machine operators in an attempt to make their continued use more attractive.

Vital

Link chief executive John Howells said: “It is vital we continue to provide free access to cash to those who need it.”

But Jenni Allen of Which? is not sure the move will work. She said: “Boosting premiums for remote machines has so far not been enough to stop cashpoints closing around the country.”

Disputed

Last year Which? claimed 300 ATMs a month were being closed – a figure disputed by Link.

Many of the free-to-use machines are in deprived or rural areas where cash rather than card use is high, which means that customers are hit if the machine is removed or a charge introduced.

Increased fee

Link has said that operators will be offered an increased fee of up to £2.75 per withdrawal to keep the machines free and operational.

The current top-up fee is 30p through Link’s financial inclusion programme.

The new rate will be offered to approximately 3,500 free-to-use machines which are currently one kilometre or more from the next nearest free machine.

Row

The move follows a row last year over plans for a phased reduction in the rate operators receive from the banks to keep their machine use free.

The fee is to be cut from 25p per transaction to 20p over the next three years. It was claimed that ‘cashless deserts’ could be created as operators closed less lucrative machines.

Cash versus card

While paying for things by card has now taken over as the preferred method of paying for goods and services, the Federation of Small Businesses says £100 billion in cash is spent each year in Britain’s shops.

Its chairman, Mike Cherry, said the launch of the super-premiums ‘highlights the fundamental failures of our ATM market’.

Long term strategy

He said: “The Payment Systems Regulator must now intervene and help the industry formulate a long-term strategy for maintaining free access to cash right across the UK.”

His plea was backed by Jenni Allen of Which? who said: “What is urgently needed is for a regulator to be given a duty to protect access to cash, so that the millions of people who rely on it in their lives are protected from rapid changes through ATM and bank branch closures.”