/ Money

Access to cash: my experience in a rural area

Access to cash is especially important for people living outside of cities. Our guest author Stella Hurley describes what happened when her local ATM shut.

This is a guest post by Stella Hurley. All views expressed are Stella’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

I live in a village called Saltford, located between Bath and Bristol. A few months ago my only local cashpoint was closed.

The ATM closure made life hard for me, but especially difficult for my neighbours who have mobility issues. Overnight they had to travel much further just to access cash they need to pay for local goods and services.

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The village Post Office is in the local library, but it’s only open between 10:30am and 2:30pm.

There are a lot of retired and disabled people in my village who would find it really difficult if that shut down. It’s the last lifeline for access to cash in our village.

Helping hand

Our village used to have a couple of banks. We’re lucky to still have the Post Office, which wouldn’t be available if it weren’t for the many volunteers who are keeping it going. But because it’s run by volunteers, its hours are more restrictive.

Those who can’t drive to access the banks in the nearby town have quite limited access to cash.

I help out my neighbour across the road with shopping who is disabled and she pays me back in cash. But she finds it very difficult to get cash because she doesn’t drive anymore. She is a bit trapped in the village.

All the small things

Life would just be a lot easier for everyone if the village ATM hadn’t shut down.

I used to be able to just walk up the road and take out cash in our village at any time. Now I have to plan everything in advance.

I take French classes and pay for those in cash, coffees here and there and going to the pub on a Friday as well.  I do use contactless here and there, but tend to use cash for all the small things.

It doesn’t feel like residents of the village were considered before our ATM was taken away, and our access to cash was severely restricted.

This was a guest post by Stella Hurley. All views expressed were Stella’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Has an ATM shut down near you affecting your access to cash? Do you think the area you live will have an impact on your easy access to a cash machine?


I’m glad that Which? remains concerned about loss of ATMs because without proper planning it is likely that obtaining cash could become in more rural areas.

I have wondered about whether parish councils and parish meetings could have an influence on retaining ATMs, bus services, mobile libraries, etc. in rural areas. Stella mentions she lives in Saltford and I see that ATMs are mentioned in these recent draft minutes: https://www.saltfordparishcouncil.gov.uk/Core/Saltford-PC/UserFiles/Files/news/September%202018%20draft%20minutes.pdf

Another possibility would be to write to the local MP.

If an ATM has insufficient custom to make it worthwhile for the operator then it will be subject to closure. LINK will support “protected” ATMs with extra payments if there is no other source of cash available. Presumably because you have a local post office that provides cash preserving a loss-making ATM was not considered appropriate.

It is impossible to provide ATMs on everyone’s doorstep. According to the LINK ATM map there are two free ATMs in your area – one 2m distant and one 0.86m away. There are many people who have never had that convenience and still need access to cash.

Rather than trying to preserve loss-making machines as the only solution I would rather see us take a wider approach to benefit far more people. Cash business exist in most areas and should be able to dispense the cash they take, as well as taking it in. It needs a system set up to make this worthwhile. So your local pub, cafe, shop (there is a Tesco Express in Saltford), garden centre for example could be paid a fee by the bank every time someone makes a cash withdrawal using a debit card rather as happens with ATMs.

I’d like to see proposals that would help the wider population.

Although I support Which on most matters, I don’t understand Which’s obsession with cash. In London, which leads the way on this, hardly anyone pays with cash any more. Almost everyone uses cards, particularly using contactless and Apple Pay. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the UK follows suit and modernises. I haven’t paid with cash in the UK for over four years. Even for paying a small amount like £0.70, it’s far quicker to use Apple Pay or a physical contactless card.

Rather than clinging on to the past, why not tackle the real problem, which is small businesses that do not accept cards or who unnecessarily impose a minimum transaction amount for paying by card? The most expensive way I’ve seen for businesses to take cards is Sumup.co.uk at 1.69% for all card types with no minimum fee. Other companies charge much less, which is often lower than the costs of handling cash (e.g. time and travel costs to transport the cash to the bank). There is no excuse for a consumer-facing business not to accept cards or to impose a minimum transaction amount.

This is less about companies and businesses taking cash and more about personal transactions among individuals. I play a sport with a £2 session charge and a £1 raffle. The many clubs are most unlikely to start using electronic payments even assuming they have access to the internet. Pocket money for children – I’d rather not give a 4 year old a card, even prepaid. I pay a gardener in cash because that suits him.

It is about horses for courses, not an all or nothing issue. Which?’s obsession seems to be preserving ATMs – even where there are lesser used ones in clusters – at all costs (to those who have bank accounts of couese). I’d like a more open minded approach.

It has been sad to see us lose loss-making little used bus services, railway lines, village shops, pubs but we cannot keep everything and add more – some things become superseded and they need to rethink their business models.

For payments between individuals, there’s no reason why one can’t use bank transfer, Paym or Revolut. Almost everyone with a bank account and a mobile number can use Paym.

There’s no objective reason for a gardener to insist on being paid in cash. The most likely reason is to evade income tax. I pay my cleaner by bank transfer, which is the normal way that most people (including salaried employees) receive remuneration for their work.

London has already proven that the economy can function without cash. Many people outside London cling on to cash because they won’t think outside the box.

All that having been said, how should one hand over pocket money and similar disbursements?

I hope Stella will come back and join in with her Conversation. I can think of some reasons why her disabled neighbour might want to use cash but it would be interesting to know which applies.

I’m in favour of everyone having a choice of how they pay for goods and services.

For pocket money, there are several children’s prepaid cards such as goHenry, all of which are a big rip-off with periodic fees that adult cards don’t attract. Revolut is working on launching a children’s prepaid card, which is unlikely to have any periodic fees and should be multi-currency, given that Revolut markets its services across the EEA.

That’s all well and good NFH, but for a lot of times when I want to give some money to our various kids, there really is no substitute for cash.

What on earth is the problem with paying for things with cash? And why should people have to change their habits just because some other people don’t like using cash?

I challenge the suggestion that hardly anybody in London pays with cash anymore. Perhaps I frequent different parts to NFH but I see plenty of cash transactions. On arrival at Liverpool Street station my first port of call is the toilets where coins are required to go through the turnstiles.

I use cash to pay various small traders for services because that is what they want. They tend to live in rural areas and do not have convenient access to ATM’s. Paying them in cash is no trouble for me and I do not concern myself with any supposed reason for their preference for cash.

As has been said many times before, there are numerous situations where there is no convenient alternative to using cash, from buying a newspaper from a street vendor or a bunch of flowers from a florists stall or a raffle ticket at a social event to donating to a charity on their street collection day. The alternatives to these would be cumbersome and unwelcome to both parties. As for speed of transaction, there is nothing quicker than pressing the right money into the hands of a street trader.

I have no objection to using the other methods of making payments, and indeed the window cleaner prefers a bank transfer which I do while he is cleaning the windows and I give him a copy of the transaction record as confirmation, but if a gardener or builder wants cash I am happy to oblige. In rural areas paying in cash lubricates the local economy. It is also instant payment for work just done and forms a bond of trust between the parties. In some ways it is the more civilised method of rewarding people for their work or service rather than the anonymous processes of on-line payment systems.

There is a funfair in Norwich over Easter. The rides and the roundabouts would be empty if people had to present a bank card every time and getting a toffee apple or some candyfloss meant asking granddad to produce his bank card. And what about the instant prize machines and sideshows? The fun would soon drain out of the fair.

We shall soon be doing a car boot sale for charity; I am not contemplating putting up a sign that says “No Cash, Please – we’re modernising”.

From the introduction, Stella and her neighbour want to continue using cash, but the ATM at the village hall has been removed, presumably without giving much thought for local residents, especially those who do not drive.

When I visit the local shop I make a point of using the ATM in case someone decides that its presence can no longer be justified.

John, Network Rail have just abolished charges for the loos at the last stations that were still charging, including London Liverpool Street. I have no doubt that this is partly because many cashless consumers who try to use them were being unreasonably denied entry. At the same time as some parts of London’s transport system such as buses no longer accept cash, it’s absurd that other parts such as loos were still requiring cash and the “London” Luton airport station-to-airport bus still accepts cash only. See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/toilet-charges-railway-stations-kings-cross-liverpool-street-a8847876.html

It’s perfectly possible to live in London totally cashlessly. I have done so for over four years.

Thanks for that information, NFH. I haven’t visited London since December. I was aware of the proposed abolition of the entry gates to the toilets but did not know it had already happened.

While I accept that it is perfectly possible to live in London totally cashlessly I believe there are a lot of people for whom this would not be possible – those without bank accounts, those in poverty, people whose way of life differs markedly from yours and mine. I just don’t see why people should be compelled to go cashless if they don’t want to. So many people have explained here why they want or need to carry on using cash that it seems pointless – and disrespectful – to push the cashless argument. This is one of the those changes that will have to evolve slowly over time; meanwhile we can turn our attention to more important matters that might benefit society.

I have a vision of NFH in discomfort because neither his phone or card will let him ‘spend a penny’. 🙁

For many small transactions cash is the quickest way to purchase something if you don’t have, or want to use, a contactless card.

When new forms of trading and payment (online) develop that are appealing then a large number of us change our habits, leading to the decline in high street shops, bank branches and ATMs. But just because a large number change their general habit does not mean they never use, nor never want to use, cash. There are those who simply do not want to use cards or electronic payments and those who cannot.

A fundamental change will happen naturally and should not be forced on us. It is good to have a cash back up if ever the internet goes down.

Remember when most people could suddenly afford cars? Bus/train services were severely affected by loss of custom. But while we pruned the systems we did not withdraw all public transport. Many with cars still use it and there were many who could not afford a car or cannot drive.

Why should people be forced into abandoning cash? There have been many examples given in the previous convo where cash is the preferred method and for sensible reasons. There is room for various forms of payment.

My gardener does not insist on cash, but it suits me.

Sweden is held as the model “cashless society” and yet, if I remember rightly, a substantial proportion of transactions, probably low value, are still made in cash.

Why do people prefer cash for small transactions? They can be the most inconvenient to pay by cash. For example, pay £0.51 for something with a banknote, and you will end up with at least 9 coins in change. With a contactless card or Apple Pay, it’s much faster and you don’t end up with a pocket full of shrapnel.

One good example would be, if you’re so poor that you bank account is already overdrawn, then any cash you manage to borrow off your mates won’t be swallowed up by your bank and, instead, can be used to buy the stuff you need.

RBS has mobile branches. I’ve used them before on holiday where there was no ATM, dead handy.


LLoyds Bank has them too, and NatWest. Others?

Many more banks should have them? Existing services expanded? But it’s a cost thing, innit, profit before service, and the Fred Goodwins of this world still need their pensions paid to them, don’t they.

The Bank of Scotland runs mobile branches in some areas. I know one town where there is a service for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, once a week. Some locations on its route have only two hours per week.

With essential services, the needs of the citizens of this country must take priority.

I wonder how many of the places these mobile banks visit had convenient branches before, whether post offices were there and might have taken over the banking service? They are a good initiative for people who cannot travel to their nearest bank.

I see no reason why we should not expect consumers to play their part in changing times (particularly when they are partly responsible for the change). Organise their banking for when the mobile service is due, for example. Go to the post office to withdraw cash when it is open, even if it may have restricted hours. Lobby for other places to dispense cash – businesses that use it for example. But I do not see why we are all entiitled somehow to demand access to cash 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are far more essential services than withdrawing cash – access to your doctor (3 weeks time OK?) – time to reach and wait in an A&E hospital, would be higher on my list.

When you are on holiday in Northern Ireland and see freedom to pay on cash machine. I got funny looks from the people behind me in the queue I was that excited to see it! Not a bad view the other way either.

More seriously – Seeing how my mum would struggle if the local cash machine disappeared really brought it home to me how important it is that we don’t lose access to cash. It also made me appreciate my easy access to cash in a city.

I think someone needs to clean the screen or people might not be able to use the QR code.

It’s good to see the Which? campaign feature on an ATM screen.

David Stone says:
26 April 2019

We are in a rural area that once had all the ‘village’ requirements. Our Post Office had an internal ATM.
We have now lost our school, Post Office, and of course the ATM with it.
It’s a 25-mile round trip to visit a local bank, so I only use the ATM when I can combine the journey with other essential tasks.
How long that will remain viable is open to question, we live completely ‘out in the sticks’, not on a road & so totally rely on a (Diesel) 4WD to go anywhere. Also reliant on both wood-burning & oil for heating, sorry I seem to have started a new thread here, but the point is that rural communities needs are not given any sort of priority.

Well said, kindred spirits living in similar area (minus the 4×4! – we just scrape the bottom off the car!). Try keeping warm when the electric drops out and cuts off the oil – we need the wood burner! we use our own wood from storm damage etc., so are trying to use the natural gifts wisely! No local facilities, no buses, this latest “brilliant idea” from the banks and financial whizzkids (who obviously have never had a problem accessing anything!) was a disaster in the making for us too. Fed up with all our choices disappearing like smoke – what a democracy (or not) when we have NO choice except NO choice! More power to the ordinary people I say……………