Cash machines are closing at a rate of 250 a month, as a result of more and more people turning to contactless payments, according to new figures from cash machine network provider Link.
Between the end of January and the start of July 2018, the number of free-to-use ATMs fell from 54,500 to 53,200 - a 2% reduction in the size of the network.
LINK, the UK’s largest cash machine network, says this is because of the continuing uptake of new payment methods such as contactless which is reducing the demand for cash and ATM withdrawals.
In response to declining demand, ATM providers have cut the number of machines they operate as they have become unprofitable to run.
Link lowered the fees it charges to banks and building societies, known as the ‘interchange fee’, to use its machines by 5% in July and it plans a further reduction in January next year.
But experts are warning that the move could lead to mass closures of free-to-use ATM machines across Britain if they become unprofitable to run, leaving access for millions of people in doubt.
David Clarke, head of policy at campaign group Positive Money, says that potential closures risk leaving whole communities without access to cash, harming over two million people who are dependent on cash for their day-to-day shopping.
He says: “Banks have pressured Link to reduce the fees they pay towards the cash network, and the result has been to make hundreds of machines unprofitable.”
Industry watchdog the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) is calling for greater ATM network protection so consumers can access their cash.
Hannah Nixon, the PSR’s managing director, says: “Free-to-use ATMs continue to play a vital role in helping people access their money.
“The requirements we intend to place on LINK will help ensure that LINK achieves their commitment to protecting the geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs across the UK.”
Mr Clarke adds: “The PSR needs to urgently step in to prevent any further cuts to the interchange fee and ensure that a widespread network of free machines is preserved.”
LINK says it has put in place specific arrangements to protect free-to-use ATMs that are more than one kilometre away from the another free cash machine.
It is also targeting all 2,365 of these free machines in remote and rural areas to remain open.
However, Link’s figures show that there were 76 ‘protected’ ATM closures between 1 February and 1 July.
The PSR has asked LINK to review the closures and consider whether they can be replaced where needed.
It is also seeking renewed commitments from each of the banks that consumers will continue to be offered services allowing them to access their cash.
Nicky Morgan MP, chair of the Treasury Committee, fears that the PSR’s intervention “may be too little, too late”.
She says: “It must ensure that LINK is held to its commitment to maintain the broad geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs.
“The committee has been clear that this is a major test of what is a relatively new regulator, but the banks, the ATM deployers, and LINK itself also have a duty to ensure consumers don’t lose out.”