/ Money

ATM closures in Scotland – will you be affected?

Our new survey shows over 50 per cent of people in Scotland think ATMs are essential for day-to-day living. And closures may hit rural and island communities hardest. How will would it affect you?

Today, we published a story containing our latest research about the impact of potential closures of ATMs on Scottish communities. This was ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the subject, sponsored by Dean Lockhart, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, and which had gained cross-party support.

Our research found that nine in ten Scottish residents told us that free cash machines were important to their everyday lives – and of these, more than half (51%) described them as essential for day to day living. Almost two thirds (62%) said they use a cash machine once a week or more.

As you will know from previous convos on the subject, changes to the LINK network of ATMs threaten to cut off free access to cash for thousands of people across the UK. The decision to reduce fees for card machine operators – which could lead to closures of free-to-use ATMs across Britain – could also have a devastating impact on small businesses and rural communities in Scotland.

Communities cut off

So why might the situation be different in Scotland? People in Scotland face many of the same challenges as those in the rest of the UK with access to ATMs. But Scotland does have distinctive characteristics, such as the proportion of our consumers living in rural or island communities, with further to travel to their nearest source of cash.

Scottish communities have also already suffered greater impacts from closures of the bank branch network, and continue to suffer as alternatives to banking (such as mobile banking) are at threat.

In our survey, one in five in rural Scotland told us their nearest free-to-use cash machine was already too far away for them to walk to, compared to 3% in urban areas. For one in seven, it currently takes at least half an hour to reach their nearest cashpoint.

When we asked about the potential impacts of ATM closures, one fifth (22%) said they would be less likely to use local shops that require them to pay in cash, and one in seven (16%) said it would affect their ability to pay for products and services.

Today’s debate

Dean Lockhart MSP said: “Demand for cash remains high, especially in rural and deprived communities and ATM facilities often act as a crucial replacement for the lack of banking services. Access to cash is absolutely vital to local growth in communities across Scotland and I urge the regulator to take action.”

In the debate, Dean spoke alongside many other MSPs from rural and urban parts of Scotland about the realities of losing bank branches, and the ‘double whammy’ of the potential ATM closures on top.

In response, the Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP committed to supporting the campaign, and had written to the Payment Systems Regulator and to the Economic Secretary to received assurances for those in communities that may be affected.

While payment services are reserved to Westminster, there is always a role for the Scottish Government and Parliament to stand up for Scots affected.

Which? are running a Save our Cashpoints campaign and our 76,000 people have signed our petition. If you haven’t already, you can sign it here.

Do you live in Scotland? How much will you be affected if your nearest ATM closes?


LINK prepared a document at the end of January dealing with their views on ATMs. It would have been useful if Which? had linked (no pun intended 🙂 ) to this so that a more balanced presentation of the situation could be put in front of us. We could perhaps better appreciate the situation. https://www.link.co.uk/media/1355/h-documents-uploads-link-interchange-consultation-announcement-31-january-2018.pdf

There are a some “coulds”, “potentials”, plus “devastating” and “double whammy” when clearly the position is, er, unclear. LINK are reassuring, particularly on rural ATMs. A debate to understand what is going on and how customers can be best helped is good, but I’d like to know what in reality might happen before raising a panic. Just lets be fair, balanced, objective and listen to both sides. Are LINK misleading us with their statements in the report? Are we over-reacting? All rural areas, whether in Scotland or the rest of the UK, will be interested in the outcome. But ATMs are not, and need not be, the only source of cash. For example, businesses that take cash could also supply it – pubs and shops for example.

@eva-groeneveld, thanks Eva 🙂

I don’t live in Scotland but as a regular visit to the Highlands I have a little experience of the challenge of finding cash dispensers outside towns. In the area that I visit most often, two of the four ATMs were removed within an area already poorly served, one as a result closure of the only bank in the area.

Until we are a cashless society (hopefully not soon) we need the banks to take responsibility for providing ATMs, not leaving this to shops, Post Offices and pubs that may close.

Those who live in England might not be aware that many ATMs have already gone from rural Scotland. Here is one example where customers have been let down by closure of banks without them making ATMs available elsewhere: https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/travel/north-coast-500-route-could-suffer-due-to-atm-shortage-1-4528431

Shops and business that rely on cash will also store cash provided by customers. So taking off the blinkers, maybe formal arrangements could be reached with them to also dispense cash to customers that need it. It would be in their interests – keeping a cash trade moving and less need to visit their bank to deposit takings – as well as those of their customers. There are many potential sources of cash – shops, POs, banks, pubs, supermarkets, garages……and rather than just focus on one we should surely be looking at the way to make the best use of all the cash resources for everyone’s benefit?

The LINK report was positive about maintaining access in rural areas. A lot of “coulds” in the article I read. I hope that sensible proposals will be made, supported and implemented.

These ATMs have gone, Malcolm, along with many others. Try visiting some of the areas that are mentioned and you can see the problem.

Please note my suggestions. I do not see why ATMs are the only answer, but am happy to discuss the wider issue with constructive proposals. If that results in ATMs being, for reasons I don’t yet see, as the only possible solution then I’m happy to pursue support in that direction. But simply demanding they are all retained or replaced on principle, when alternatives might be available, does not appeal to me. I would like to keep minds open and positive on this topic, and see further how LINK propose dealing with this if their report does not already. Perhaps Which? could ask?.

I see it as the responsibility of banks to make provisions for customers. The Link scheme is an excellent example of how different companies have worked together rather than in competition to support all customers. (I wish the mobile phone companies would share networks in the same way to provide better coverage, as they do in the case of emergency calls.)

An ATM lets customers check their balance so that they can manage their money and hopefully avoid overdraft charges. Not everyone uses online banking or phone apps to monitor the state of their finances.

In my view, companies providing essential services should be required to make adequate provision and I have given examples of where this has not happened.

“Please note my suggestions” Maybe I should say the same. 🙂

One of the main advantages of an ATM is that it will be available most times of the week. In contrast, cash can only be obtained from business during their open hours.

Whilst locals can learn to work within those constraints, townie tourists may find them harder to deal with. As sample evidence of the bother that this can cause, those of you with access to YouTube might like to check out the “No Cash Machine in Pittenweem Song”.

For example, pubs are open quite late, as are hotels and fuel stations, and may be persuaded to join a cash dispensing scheme. It would be in their interests.

If the banks are prepared to pay for provision of this service then it might be viable. In my experience, there are not many filling stations in rural areas in Scotland and those that exist do not stay open until late.

Using a debit card in exchange for cash from the till to spend in the dispenser maybe – local shop, pub, etc, should not need bank support and, as I say, is in the interests of those who do dispense cash and the local economy.

This Convo is specifically about ATM closures in Scotland.

I know that. I am suggesting that instead of getting worked up about ATMs we could be looking at the problem in general – obtaining cash. That can be solved, I believe, in other ways where ATMs are not handy. 🙂

Pittenweem is listed as having a post office offering current account services (which would include cash withdrawal) that is open 6 days a week. Is it still in existence?

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It helps to understand the realities of living in rural Scotland. At least those living in Fife don’t have to pay extra delivery charges, like those in the highlands and islands.

I suppose I could say that I’m OK because there is an ATM in the village shop and I could drive or take the bus three miles into town, where there is a large bank with all services I need. I’m sure they could save money by redeploying the young lad who stands there opening the door for customers. I want to fight to retain ATMs for the benefit of those less fortunate than me.

duncan,. I was addressing the availability of cash in Pittengreen. Not only does its post office seemingly offer cash and essential banking facilities 6 days a week, but within 1.4 miles you have full post office facilities at Anstruther. I have to travel further to get to my ATM and post office.

If we want to be able to obtain cash, I have given a number of possibilities and the post office is just one. I just wonder why some insist that only ATMs can meet this need. The other options appear to be ignored in this discussion.

According to Google, there are 3 ATMs in Anstruther, 1.4 miles from Pittenweem (correction to previous post!). Have they been removed? Maybe they could leave one and distribute the other two. My nearest ATM is further away than that, and I live in a reasonably well populated part of England.

I’ve just found information about a bank branch that was closed several years ago. Information online is not necessarily up to date.

I don’t know about a Post Office but a shop or a pub would not give me an account balance. Not everyone uses online banking or phone apps, and in rural areas in Scotland they might not have a mobile signal. It’s the responsibility of the banks to make sure that customers have reasonable access to the services they need.

This Convo is about cash from ATMs.

However, customers in the quoted Pittenweem can get details of their accounts at the post office, if they do not have online banking.

“I don’t know about a Post Office“. This is a list of post office banking services:
Our services
Withdraw cash. You can ​withdraw cash from your bank account
Deposit cash. Or a cheque into your bank account
Bank balance. You can check your bank balance
Ways to access your cash
We offer two options when it comes to withdrawing cash from your bank account.
Find your nearest ATM
Find your nearest Post Office branch
Key benefits
Convenient: simple, safe and free service. Drop into any of our 11,500 Post Office branches
Helpful: check your balance or make withdrawals while you’re there
Simple: pay in cash or cheques

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According to the Post office website, the post office at Anstruther has the following facilities. I assume from your post that this is no longer the case? I’m only trying to find information. It does seem within 1.4 miles of Pittenweem there are facilities to withdraw cash, the subject of this Convo. Perhaps another Convo could address the availablity of post offices and their facilities.
Key Available Services
Drop & Go
Parcelforce Express Services
Identity & Licences
Passport Check & Send
Vehicle Tax
Foreign Currency
Travel Insurance
Travel Money Card
National Express – Tickets
Your Finances
Current Account – Servicing
Savings application forms
Savings Account ID Verification (free)
ATM – 24hr

The gist of the intro, and the coast 500 route for example, was on the availability of cash. So it seems reasonable to focus on all the ways cash might be made available in the event that ATMs were reduced in coverage (but that as yet is not a given under the latest LINK proposals).

Maybe we should look at the way “free” current accounts are provided by banks; they are not free to provide of course but are funded by customers from investing deposits, and high overdraft charges for example. It has been suggested in other Convos that banks should charge for current account usage, reduce arranged overdraft charges and pay proper interest on deposits. So customers pay what it costs but recoup in other ways, not having one group (e.g. heavy overdraft users) subsidising others as seems to happen now. A consequent small charge for using ATMs might make them more attractive to the operators and maintain or even increase the network.

So rather than look at ATMs in isolation maybe we should include them in a look at personal banking generally. Suggestions in other Convos have been put forward. Maybe Which? could compile a constructive report as to how we, and they, might see how ways access to our bank services could be improved.

I would be very happy if Which? did look at retail banking in general. With banking and other essential services, customers’ needs must take priority over the wishes of the companies and their shareholders, within the constraint that they companies must remain viable and able to make modest profits. This Convo is focused on problems in Scotland and I would support trying different approaches. Looking at one of the closed banks mentioned in the my linked article I saw a notice that the Bank of Scotland would be running a mobile bank service twice a week to support communities where ATMs had been removed. Other approaches are to fund installation and maintenance of ATMs outside or inside shops and other premises.

There are also mobile post offices where fixed ones have gone; these offer a range of banking services for most bank customers. But why should enterprising businesses that rely on cash not take part in cash dispensing as well? Do we only have to have a machine to dispense cash?

It all needs to be coordinated, in the same way that Local Plans look at multiple issues. I am not suggesting that banks should have a monopoly of supplying cash but they should have the responsibility of making sure that it is available to their customers. But that takes us into general discussions for which we have ATMs and this one is intended to focus on the needs of those in Scotland.

There are remoter areas in England, Wales and Ireland that will have similar issues. I don’t know why Scotland is exceptional.

I don’t doubt it but Eva has explained some of the problems in her introduction. As Duncan frequently explains, Scotland differs from England in a variety of ways and long may that continue.

This Convo is about future closure of ATMs.
LINK issued the following statement on 31st Jan https://www.link.co.uk/media/1355/h-documents-uploads-link-interchange-consultation-announcement-31-january-2018.pdf
of which the following are brief extracts from the introduction.

Is the LINK statement regarded as untrue? Otherwise exactly what is the argument about?
THE LINK BOARD ….31st January 2018
……………….. LINK is determined to defend the free ATM network and the consumers who rely on it. ………………. This will include implementing a strengthened Financial Inclusion Programme to protect every community across the UK from losing free ATM access. ………. The impact is expected to be a modest decline in the number of ATMs in areas where they are heavily concentrated but with no diminution in the overall geographical coverage. …………………. ……………………… will ensure that all communities retain free access to cash
All existing free ATMs that are one kilometre or more from the next free ATM will be exempt from reductions in interchange. In addition, a premium of up to 30p (up from 10p now) will also be paid wherever needed to ensure that free ATMs remain in areas that could not otherwise sustain them.
A one-kilometre criterion will be used to identify areas that will receive the premium. This will be applied flexibly to reflect actual travel distances on the ground, and problems with specific vulnerable communities where the one kilometre distance is too far.
This will specifically include where closure of a bank branch is leading to a financial inclusion problem.

It would have been relevant for Link to refer to the effect of removal of ATMs in rural areas such as the more remote parts of Scotland. What has happened in the past is helpful to predict the consequences of further reductions even if done for economic reasons rather than bank branch closure.

Further to the above comment, just what criteria should be adopted to decide where a ” nearest free-to-use cash machine” must be to satisfy people. Surely not within walking distance of everyone? So what size community? 1km is not within walking distance for many so just how will the sensible distribution of ATMs be judged?

ATMs are not free, of course; they are paid for by the banks customers – private and business. So if we want more ATMs we will end up funding them.

Although not on topic, loss of bank branches has been raised. It was inevitable that with the huge growth in internet banking, of benefit to the majority of customers, branches would be lost as “footfall” diminished. However the banks reached an agreement with the Post Office that most of their branches would provide essential banking facilities for almost every bank. A good move, surely? Particularly since they mainly have longer opening hours than banks.

I am on my annual visit to the Highlands of Scotland and staying in a small town with a single ATM, following the closure of the one bank and its ATM a couple of years ago. The remaining ATM developed a fault after Christmas. There is an ATM (often empty) in the next village but nothing else within ten miles.