With bank branches closing across the country, there has never been a more pressing time to look at the future provision of cash and access to financial services. Ged Killen MP explains more.
Let’s start with a startling fact: there are now more ATMs in the Houses of Parliament than there are in centre of Cambuslang – the major town of the constituency I represent. The ATM machines that are there regularly run out of cash.
Like many small towns, Cambuslang has faced challenges in recent years. The town centre is not as busy as it once was and as more services like banks leave the area, footfall continues to drop and it becomes more difficult for local businesses, many of whom rely on small cash transactions, to survive.
In the constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West overall, we have lost six bank branches in recent years and there are now very real concerns that free-to-use ATM machines are at risk of closure.
A cashless society?
We may be moving towards a cashless society, but we are not there yet. Many people still rely on cash, particularly those who are living on a tight budget and people who are not as confident using modern technology such as digital banking and contactless payments.
I think it crucial that we do not allow banks to force the pace of change to suit their own profit margins at the expense of consumers who are at risk of being left behind by advancements in technology.
I believe LINK’s decision to cut the interchange fee paid to ATM operators by the banks when you withdraw cash from a machine is an example of a forced change that will put thousands of free-to-use ATM machines at risk. If machine becomes unprofitable as a result of LINKs decision, the temptation for operators may be to introduce charges on what were previously free-to-use ATMs.
This is a particular risk in more deprived or rural communities, meaning the most vulnerable could be asked to pay more. That is why I want to shift the risk and the burden away from consumers. If we are moving towards a cashless society, we must ensure that we do not arrive there via fee-charging ATM machines that penalise consumers.
A right to cash
My Private Members Bill would ban ATM charges and establish a right to free access to cash based on a full market review by the Payment Systems regulator to establish demand for cash.
Change should be driven by consumer use, not by banks acting in their own interest. So long as there remains a demand for cash, access to that cash should be freely available no matter where you live.
This is a guest post by Ged Killen MP. All views expressed here are Ged’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.
Do you use cash for the majority of your purchases? Are you reliant on ATMs? How would your life be affected if they were to close?