Free cash machines could soon disappear - here's why

Free to use cash machines could be lost within two years without Government action, Britain’s main ATM supplier has warned.

The consumer group Which? says the law must change to force banks to maintain the system.

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An estimated 9,500 free ATMs have been removed or introduced charges of up to £2 since January 2018. As a result, fees paid by the public to access their own cash have risen from £29 million a year to £104 million.

At the same time, hundreds of bank branches have put up the shutters in what Which? describes as "rampant closures".

Decline of cash usage

Link, the UK’s largest cashpoint network, has said the free cash system will collapse within just two years without government intervention.

John Howell, the chief executive of Link, said, “The precipitous decline of cash usage is already placing severe strain on the UK’s cash infrastructure.”

He added that Link will be able to support free ATM coverage “for the next year or two”, but, without intervention, the “infrastructure will start to fall apart”.

The warning follows the recommendations by the Access to Cash Review published last year. Among the suggestions made was paying retailers to provide cashback to those in rural areas. Both Mastercard and Visa have launched schemes in the past few months.

Legislation to protect free access to cash

Ahead of the upcoming Budget, Which? has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for legislation to protect free access to cash.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said, "Many people have been left struggling from the double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures – and suffered at the hands of industry mismanagement that has left Britain’s cash landscape on the verge of collapse.

"This Budget will decide the future of cash. The Chancellor has a huge opportunity here to protect cash for the millions of people who rely on it."

In October, Link launched a “request an ATM” scheme but has received just 274 direct applications. A further 3,160 have been forwarded by Which?.