Fears over loss of free-to-use ATMs prompts call for ‘urgent review’

People in rural areas have to travel further to use ATMs
People in rural areas have to travel further to use ATMs
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An “urgent review” of proposed changes to the ATM network is needed to ensure people are not left isolated, consumer organisation Which? has said.

The organisation claims proposals to reduce fees for card machine operators could lead to closures of free-to-use ATMs across the country and could have a “devastating impact” on small businesses and rural communities in Scotland.

LINK, the network responsible for 82 per cent of all UK cash machine withdrawals, has announced a reduction of fees from 25p to 20p per withdrawal over four years. It said there will be no change for free ATMs one kilometre or more from the next free ATM. Research for Which? found one in five (19 per cent) people in rural Scottish communities said their nearest free-to-use cash machine was already too far away to walk to, compared to 3 per cent in urban areas.

When asked about the potential impact of closures, one-fifth (22 per cent) said they would be less likely to use local shops that require them to pay in cash and one in seven (16 per cent) said it would affect their ability to pay for products. MSPs will discuss the issue in a debate at the Scottish Parliament today.

Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) are calling on the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) to urgently intervene and review the potential implications the change will have for consumers if it leads to fewer ATMs.

Gareth Shaw, Which? money expert, said: “It’s clear that free-to-use cashpoints play a vital role for the majority of Scottish people and that some, particularly in rural communities, face substantial challenges to accessing cash.

“We are calling on the financial regulator to conduct an urgent review to ensure that people aren’t left isolated and can access the cash they need.”

The survey of 1,854 people in Scotland found almost one in ten (8 per cent) had used a fee-charging cash machine in the last month and of these a third (31 per cent) did so because they could not find a free-to-use option. LINK said its plans are part of a move to re-balance the ATM network and has committed to protecting access to free machines.

A LINK spokesman said: “We want to re-balance ATMs from a proliferation in city centres to spread them to rural and poorer areas.”

LINK said it will triple the financial inclusion subsidy from 10p up to 30p for ATMs in areas with poor cash-access.

Scottish Labour MP Ged Killen said:“I have been campaigning against these closures and plan to introduce a bill at Westminster which will aim to protect free access to cash by creating a legal requirement for free ATMs while there remains sufficient demand for their services.”