Number of free-to-use cash machines could be reduced

Reducing consumer demand for cash has led UK's cash machine network LINK to propose several measures, prompting fears there may be a reduction in free ATMs.

The row centres around interchange fees paid by card issuers such as banks and building societies to ATM operators.

The industry lobby group, the ATM Industry Association, calculated that at least 10,000 free-to-use cash machines could be at risk - nearly one in five of the 55,000 ATMs at which customers can withdraw cash without incurring fees.

This interchange fee is calculated by dividing the cost of running the free-to-use network by the number of transactions, and is now around 25p.

Responsibility for setting the interchange rate rests with the Link Board, which has a public interest remit. However, recent changes to interchange fees - a fee paid by card issuers to ATM operators - has impacted the funding of free-to-use cash points.

The aim, Howells said, was to reduce the £1bn annual running cost of the network, which has 70,000 ATMs when machines that charge are included.

But trade body the ATM Industry Association warned that "ATM deserts" could be created.

The ATMIA said cash remained a vital part of the economy and many people, especially the most vulnerable, depended on free access to it. "This when ATM costs in the United Kingdom are already among the lowest in the world".

Link argued that its proposals would help maintain the spread of ATMs in deprived communities and rural areas, while any reduction in the number of cash machines is meant to be in areas where they are already clustered together.

Delnevo added it was likely the reduction would target "unprofitable machines", rather than areas with a high concentration, which could lead to "ATM deserts", where entire communities have no direct access to cash.

"A unwarranted shake-up of Link will hit the most hard-up the heaviest - particularly the millions of people who rely on cash for day-to-day budgeting", said Ron Delnevo, of the association. It said around 80% of free-to-use ATMs are within 300 metres of another free-to-use machine.

Link is seeking views by November 30 before a final decision on January 31 2018, which will be implemented on April 1 next year.

LINK said there would still be an extensive network of free cash machines and that any reduction would likely be in areas where there are now a number of them close together.

James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said: "Consumers want easy access to cash, and this is often provided by ATMs at convenience stores".

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