/ Money

Update: cuts to free cashpoints are on the way

cashpoint

The first of four cuts to the ATM interchange fee, the fee that funds the free-to-use cashpoint network, have come into force. We’re concerned about the impact on communities’ and consumers’ ability to freely access cash.

This Which? Conversation was originally published on 12 September 2018.

Despite the introduction of a host of measures to lessen the impact on cashpoint closures on rural communities, including a bolstered Financial Inclusion Programme, we remained unconvinced that Link would be able to minimise the closure of machines across the network.

So we analysed Link’s own data to track cashpoint numbers from November 2017, when these plans were first unveiled, up until April 2018.

And our figures show that we aren’t alone in our concern, as cashpoint closures following Link’s announcement actually increased six-fold from 50 per month in 2015 to 300 a month during the six-month period we analysed.

As cashpoint operators geared up for the change, it’s clear that in many cases they were removing machines that may no longer be financially viable – demonstrating that even operators agree Link’s measures simply aren’t good enough.

Speaking to Which?, one of the largest independent cashpoint providers, NoteMachine, said learning of the changes in late 2017 had ‘an immediate effect’ on its ability to maintain widespread free access, while the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA) told us the move set the network on ‘a path to disaster’.

Rural communities worst hit

Our investigation found more machines were lost proportionally in rural communities (-2.1%) than urban areas (-2%) across the UK, despite Link’s pledge that these changes would target urban, not rural machines. Coupled with the rate of bank branch closures, such closures will hit rural communities especially hard.

In particular, we found:

  • The UK lost 2% of its network: 2.1% was lost in rural areas, against 2% in urban
  • Scotland’s rural network was the hardest hit, suffering a 2.9% loss (urban areas saw a 2.1% reduction)
  • Wales lost 2.1% of its rural machines, with 2.3% losses to its urban network
  • England lost 2.1% in urban areas and 2.1% in rural communities
  • Northern Ireland gained 2.5% in urban areas, with a 0.5% loss to its rural network.

Call for action

With hundreds of cashpoints closing every month we have serious concerns that, far from protecting consumers’ access to cash, Link’s plans risk destroying it.

Link initially rejected these findings. However, far from disproving our analysis, Link data published on its website showed that the rate of closures may actually be higher, with 500 machines a month closing between December 2017 and June 2018.

While many of us may have moved on to digital forms of payment, such as contactless cards, it is clear that more work needs to be done to ensure that free access to cash is maintained.

This is particularly important for the millions of consumers who continue to rely on cash in their daily lives.

We want the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), Link’s regulator, to intervene urgently and halt the cuts to the interchange fee until a thorough review of the cashpoint network is conducted.

This should look at the impact of Link’s decision over the next four years; underlying competition issues impacting the sector; and the future of cash.

How important is access to cash free of charge to you?

Update: 13 July 2018

We hosted over 50 MPs at an event in Parliament this week as part of our campaign to save our cashpoints. We discussed the impact of ATM closures on consumers and small businesses across the UK and used our supporter reporter tool to map out the existing ATM network and highlight the potential impact of closures in their local area.

The feedback was overwhelming – it’s clear that too many communities are being hit by bank branch closures, poor digital infrastructure and now ATM closures, putting free and easy access to cash at risk.

We are asking MPs to help us put pressure on the regulator to step in and protect free access to cash.

Update: 12 September 2018

More than 250 free-to-use cash machines are disappearing every month as operators shut unprofitable ones, the network co-ordinator Link has admitted.

We’ve condemned these shocking figures publicly, demanding that the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) urgently intervenes to stop further closures and ensure no more consumers are suddenly stripped of their access to cash.

Managing Director of Which? Money, Jenni Allen, said:

“The rate at which free-to-use cashpoints are closing is alarming and it is clear that LINK is failing on its commitment to protect access to cash for people in remote and rural areas who need it most.
“The regulator was warned that these changes to the ATM network could have severe consequences for communities, businesses and millions of people who rely on cash, yet it waved them through without proper scrutiny.

Update: 3 October 2018

Our new research has revealed that lower-income households and older generations will be hit hardest by bank branch and ATM closures, with these groups using cash more frequently than average.

The group perhaps most at risk of social exclusion when bank branches and ATMs disappear is the over-65s – 80% are reliant on cash, using it at least two to three times a week.

Read our latest research in full

Comments
Member

https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/atm-cuts-free-cash-machines-interchange/#comment-1546567
if it is the case that it is hard/impossible to keep track of ATM numbers on a weekly/monthly basis,.

This is the latest general list I can find, dated July 18:
https://www.link.co.uk/media/1408/parliamentary-constituency-breakdown.pdf

There is also a locator map. Don’t know how up-to-date.
https://www.link.co.uk/consumers/locator/

This is interesting information on improving ATMs in deprived areas:
https://www.link.co.uk/media/1410/atm-financial-inclusion-dashboard.pdf

Member

This latest press release seems a bit short on facts:

Which? comments on latest “access to cash” proposals
25 September 2018
Gareth Shaw, Which? Money Expert, said:

“Bank branches and free-to-use ATMs are closing at an alarming rate – threatening to leave consumers and businesses without vital banking services.

“Urgent action is needed to protect access to cash and banking services in areas where people still need them. Steps need to be taken to put local communities at the heart of these decisions and give them the chance to have their say before these services disappear.”

On ATMs, it would be more helpful if they told us about to “protected” ATM closures. Those that form part of clusters – the vast majority – are not going to leave customers bereft. The LINK figures show the true extent.

We should also remember that most post offices provide banking facilities for most major banks, and generally offer better opening hours.

We cannot always keep everything as it is when times and our habits change. We need to have alternatives. I think it would be constructive, and particularly helpful to consumers, if Which? gave the full information, showed all the alternatives, and helped to propose other options, particularly for cash accessibility, that might be developed.

Putting it bluntly (not like me 🙁 ) I don’t just want to see negative, moaning headlines.

Member

In Spain last week, cash machines of the three largest Spanish banks (Santander, BBVA and Bankia) were all charging for withdrawals, using a UK-issued Revolut MasterCard and a German-issued debit card. Eventually we found a La Caixa cash machine that was free, and the staff inside the branch even changed the denominations for me. It seems a particular problem in Spain now; it never used to be. I believe that Spanish-issued cards are exempt from these new charges, so it seems like unfair discrimination by nationality or place of residence.

Member

Thanks for today’s update: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/10/poorest-to-be-worst-hit-by-a-cashless-society-warns-which/

It’s about time that banks provided a proper service for their customers rather than closing branches and not even providing an ATM. I’m sure that I, like many others, could survive in a cashless society, but believe we should be thinking of people other than ourselves.

Member

There are more ways of providing cash than being blinkered by banks and ATMs. Bank branches and ATMs close if their use diminishes.

I’d like to see a broader look at this problem that would not only benefit those who can currently access ATMs, but the very many others who have never had easy access to one. How best to help them with access to cash. We need to think about society as a whole, not just protecting the lucky ones.

Today’s press release from Which? (https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/poorest-threatened-by-move-to-cashless-society-study-from-which-reveals/)
3 October 2018 says, among much else:

Recent research shows cash machines are shutting at a rate of 250 a month highlighting the failings of LINK’s Financial Inclusion Programme that promised to protect access to cash. LINK is the UK’s largest cash machine network.

First, the vast majority of these 250 closures are, according to LINK, not “protected” machines – i.e .where another is more than 1km away. They are, presumably, in areas of many machines where “duplicates” are removed, so will not cause any hardship. In fact, according to LINK, confirmed by Which?, only 64 public ATMs in the protected category were closed not in 1 month, but in 5 months – 13 a month, not 250. Of these, 43 have post offices close by with cash withdrawal (and maybe other banking) facilities. That leaves 21 being investigated.

Second, LINK does not own any of these ATMs and, presumably, has no control over whether they close or not. That is down to the commercial operators. LINK look after the interchange of fees between operators for transaction when the ATM you use is not your own bank’s. What LINK has done is increased the interchange fee for “vulnerable” ATMs to persuade operators with unprofitable ATMs to keep them open for social reasons.

I admire Which? for doing what they can to draw attention to the ATM problem and help keep a full network. However, I do wish it would not withhold pertinent information; I want to make a rational decision based on fact, not be misled just to add support to their campaign.

Well, that’s a personal view.

Member

Many of us started using cash dispensers in the 1970s, when they were introduced as a quick and efficient automated way of obtaining cash and performing a limited range of other tasks. Many ATMs can be used 24/7. It makes no sense to go back to older, more labour intensive ways and more restrictive ways of obtaining cash. Expecting the banks to provide their customers with services is hardly a blinkered view.

Member

Expecting commercial organisations to continue supporting services that are loss making, without taking action, is quite unrealistic. LINK is helping by increasing fees for vulnerable ones. However, as I explained above, it seems very few “protected” ATMs are under threat. I see no point in protecting all ATMs where they are close together – the vast majority of the “250 a month”, it seems.

There are a number of existing ways to access cash other than from banks and ATMs, and we could explore others; suggestions have already been made. A constructive approach, not the “blinkered one” of not looking beyond banks and ATMs.

The constructive approach might well bring access to cash to a lot more people who live nowhere near a bank or an ATM. I’d like to see the wider community helped with some open-minded proposals.

Member

As I have said many times, there is no need for every ATM to make a profit, simply that the company operates at an overall profit. Am I correct?

Member

We do not need duplicated ATMs, and if having too many in one place makes them unprofitable it is sensible to reduce them. It is all the banks’ customers who pay for them. Trying to keep them is just a waste of money. Efforts need to be directed to preserving the single ATMs that might be vulnerable, which is what the additional LINK fee sets out to achieve.

Member

If an individual ATM makes a loss, then why would its owner want to continue operating it? They want to maximise their profits, so they will instead close it and move it to a profit-making location.

Member

The Link Financial Inclusion Programme helps to ensure that this does not happen, though I don’t believe it goes far enough.

Malcolm – I have never suggested that there is a need for multiple ATMs nearby, often found in city centres. I don’t recall that anyone has made a case here for their retention.

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
3 October 2018

Given the problems that sometimes affect Cashpoints etc I would be curious as to the work that has gone into establishing reliability and whether in fact two or three cashpoints within a kilometre actually is desirable.

Also I am not aware if the capacity of individual machines is necessarily sufficient. Perhaps Link knows the answers but I lack the time and the inclination to investigate. Or possibly they are inept and have never investiagted machines running “dry”.

Member

When which? bemoans the fact the “250 a month” are closing, the vast majority of those seem to be close to others. The point I was making was that bemoaning the loss of these is not sensible; it would no doubt otherwise result in many of them being unprofitable.

The refilling of machines will, i expect, be determined by usage, presumably reported automatically. This will be the responsibility of the machine’s owner, not of LINK.

Member
B Hayden says:
3 October 2018

It is not just ATMs closing but some banks will not serve or give change if you are not one of their customers. I withdrew some cash from a Lloyds bank ATM (My bank branch had closed) then went inside to ask for 10 x £1 coins. They would not change my £10 note, from their ATM, because I was not a customer. And now I never will be!

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
3 October 2018

Not exchanging cash for non-customers has been true for at least thirty years. Simply why should they provide this service to anyone who is not a customer? What economic benefit do they derive from holding and shipping cash around the country in security vans. None.

Controlling cash at a branch to ensure you have just enough to cover normal business is an art and unrestricted exchanging or taking cash is simply not worth the candle in terms of goodwill.

If you had moved your account to that Lloyds and not be continuing to support a Bank that closed your Branch you may have benefited.

Member

LINK data for “protected ATM” (another not within 1km) closures for August:
32 total. 8 closed temporarily – reinstallation planned. 9 alternative free access to cash available. 9 under investigation with operator. 6 – subsidy being offered.

”LINK does not own or operate ATMs and the siting of ATMs is a competitive market for ATM operators who choose to deploy where it makes sense for them to do so commercially. LINK therefore offers premiums to operators to support the deployment of a free-to-use ATM in locations designated as “ATMs Targeted for Replacement”

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
11 October 2018

I love facts.