Cash machine operators are to be given a “super premium” in remote areas to help reduce the number of ATM closures.
Link, the cash machines network provider, says that from the end of April operators will receive up to £2.75 per cash withdrawal from banks in remote areas and less well-off parts of the country.
Approximately 1,000 ATMs will initially be eligible to receive a premium, but this is likely to increase, Link says.
Link also expects the super premiums will lead to some cash machines that currently charge money being converted into free-to-use ones.
Rural areas have been hit by a raft of bank branch closures in recent years, while cash machines are also closing at a rate of 250 a month as operators shut unprofitable ones.
This has left towns and villages without access to basic banking services, hitting the elderly and the disabled particularly hard.
There are currently around 50,000 ATMs in the UK. However, as only 2% of cash machines are eligible for the premium this means thousands more could still be under threat.
John Howells, chief executive of Link, says: “We are delighted to announce this increase in financial support for ATMs in remote and deprived areas that provide a vital service to communities.
“While many consumers are turning to alternative payment methods such as contactless cards, it is vital we continue to provide free access to cash to those who need it. These premiums will further safeguard ATMs in remote and less well-off areas.”
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David Clarke, head of policy at campaign group Positive Money, is less optimistic about the announcement because only a few cash machines will be helped by the measures.
He says: “We hope the introduction of a premium on certain rural cash machines will offer respite to communities which face losing access to their money.
"But these measures only apply to a fraction of the overall number of ATMs, and the alarming rate of closures looks set to continue, after banks lobbied to slash the amount they pay towards funding the UK’s cash network.
“The government should urgently assign a regulator with a specific duty to protect cash access to stop these closures and ensure that people’s choice over payments is protected.”
The move follows a row over the phased reduction of interchange rates, the fees Link charges to banks and building societies for their customers to withdraw money.
In January 2018, Link announced a phased 20% reduction in interchange fees from around 25p to 20p.
The first reduction took place on the 1 July 2018 and the second on 1 January 2019.
However, following a 6% fall in the volume of ATM transactions, Link decided to cancel the third reduction, due in January 2020, and put on hold the fourth reduction, due in January 2021, pending a further review.
Experts have warned that the reduction 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.
Currently, operators of eligible ATMs receive a top-up subsidy of up to 30p through LINK’s financial inclusion programme. This payment is in addition to the interchange rate.
Rory Stoves, personal finance specialist at uSwitch.co.uk, says: "This move is a sign of the times - cities are becoming cashless with contactless payments used for everything but rural communities aren’t ready to go cashless just yet.
"The closure of so many free ATM’s is negatively impacting independent businesses and street vendors. Some small businesses have been forced to absorb the cost of card charges or have had to pass them onto customers.
"It’s important those who need cash have access to their money free of charge and you shouldn't have to travel miles to get to it either.”