Communities are being stripped of their free access to cash at an “alarming” rate, with more than 1,000 ATMs having been converted to charging fees in March alone, according to Which?
The consumer group said fees of at least 95p per withdrawal were imposed on nearly 1,700 machines between January and March this year.
It used figures from ATM network Link to make the findings. Which? said the rate of machines being converted to charge fees appears to be on the rise, with a “staggering” 1,250 conversions thought to have taken place across the UK in March. The group said the bulk of the ATMs affected are operated by Cardtronics, the UK’s biggest cashpoint operator.
Bank branch and ATM closures have sparked widespread concerns about people’s future access to cash, particularly in rural areas.
A row broke out last year over Link’s proposals for reducing interchange fees – the fee card issuers pay ATM operators – leading to concerns more free-to-use cash machines will disappear.
Link has put in place specific arrangements to protect free-to-use ATMs more than one kilometre away from their next nearest free-to-use ATM.
A spokeswoman for Cardtronics said: “We have been forced into charging a fee for cash withdrawals on some of our machines where Link’s cuts have left us with no choice.
“The decision on whether to introduce a fee is taken on a case-by-case basis and reflects the economic viability of the individual machine.
“We only ever charge a fee when there is no other option apart from removing the machine altogether.”
Meanwhile, Peter McNamara, chief executive of cashpoint provider NoteMachine, said: “The whole Link system is now under severe threat from a toxic combination of wholesale bank branch closures, the unavoidable shift of many free-to-use machines to a charging model, and the mothballing of low volume machines which are no longer economically viable under the charging regime.”
He said NoteMachine had always operated a free-to-use model wherever possible and continued: “However, unless urgent action is taken to reduce the pressure on ATM operators by reversing the interchange fee reductions, NoteMachine will be forced to begin converting ATMs to surcharging.
“This is a dilemma we have been grappling with for some time and are extremely reluctant to make such a decision.”
Meanwhile, banks have been accused of “giving up on their communities” by closing branches and removing cash machines. A third of all bank branches in Scotland have closed since 2015.
Giving evidence to the Commons Scottish affairs select committee yesterday, representatives of four banks were questioned by MPs about access to financial services amid branch closures.
Committee convener Pete Wishart described the situation as “unacceptable” and said banks had “a corporate responsibility to provide bank services to their customers and their communities”.