/ Money

Does Scotland have Freedom to Pay?

This week, we took our ‘Freedom to Pay. Our Way’ campaign directly to Westminster and shone a light on the problems people in Scotland face when accessing their everyday finances.

As we transition towards an increasingly digital society, our ‘Freedom to Pay. Our Way’ campaign aims to make sure that nobody gets left behind.

Because of this, I was invited to give evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, a group of MPs made up from a range of political parties who investigate issues affecting Scotland and who are currently conducting an inquiry looking at Access to Financial Services.

Scottish bank branches and cashpoints

We know that the way people pay for goods and services is continually changing, and we want to ensure that people across the UK can use whatever method of payment suits their needs.

As such, we shared with the Committee our research, which found that within the last three months, three in five Scottish consumers had experienced an occasion where the only option available to them was to pay in cash.

When you bear in mind that at least 399 bank branches in Scotland have shut since 2015, and that 290 cashpoints were lost between January 2018 and December 2018, including 204 which were free to use, then you can start to see the problem people in Scotland face on a daily basis.

Without access to banks and cashpoints, online banking and card payments become the main options available. Yet, in Scotland, almost 2 million adults do not use online banking services, with poor broadband identified as a key reason.

The Which? speed checker found that Scotland still has some of Britain’s slowest average connection speeds. The areas with the lowest speeds recorded in Scotland were the Orkney Islands (3Mbps), Shetland Islands (6.7Mbps), Argyll and Bute (7Mbps), and Moray (7.1Mbps).

Sharing your stories

More than 1,400 people living in Scotland responded to our call for them to share their stories with us in advance of the committee hearing to inform our response.

Debbie told us:

“I manage a small convenience store and petrol station which also has a Post Office in the northern Highlands. Through our post office we offer a lot of banking opportunities for customers wishing to deposit and withdraw cash.

Many of our customers choose to pay with cash for their shopping. There are numerous reasons for this. Some find cash easier to use when budgeting and keeping track of their finances, while others don’t own a computer or a smart phone so making digital payments and managing their finances in this way is much harder.

There have been times when our unreliable internet connection has meant we haven’t been able to accept card payments. On these occasions we’ve had to ask our customers to withdraw cash from the Post Office and use that to pay for their products or fuel”

We shared this story, and many others, with the committee this week. Thank you to everyone who took the time to contact us.

Action is needed now if we are to ensure that people across the UK have the freedom to pay for goods and services their own way.

To enable this the UK Government must give a single regulator the statutory duty to protect people’s access to cash and to build a sustainable cash infrastructure for the UK.

You can help us tackle this issue across the UK by supporting our campaign. We’ll keep you updated on our progress and, if you want to get involved or share a story, please let us know here on Which? Conversation.


I fully support your campaign and hope that your influence on the Scottish Affairs Committee bears fruit. It is clear from what you say that infrastructure needs to improve in Scotland and probably elsewhere as well. The electronic cashless approach falls down here and in rural areas there are people who use traditional methods because of this. Just because the trend is towards cards for everything, this shouldn’t mean that some populations are disadvantaged when they wish to ( or are forced to) use cash.

Even in Edinburgh there are shops and businesses that will accept only cash (I go to at least three of them), so even with mostly reasonable internet connection, we all need access to free cashpoints.

“290 cashpoints were lost between January 2018 and December 2018, including 204 which were free to use,“. Which? should expand on this to say how many were among or close to other ATMs, and of those that closed how many had an alternative source of cash – the post office for example. Just to ensure we see a more complete picture. As far as I can see only 13 “protected” ATMs have closed in the last year in Scotland, some of which will have alternative access to cash nearby.

We need cash and should be recognising that its provision needs thinking about in a broader way than simply maintaining existing forms of access. This month’s Which? Money magazine explains the commercial pressures that are at work on the ATM network.

Even if a cash point closes and there are others relatively close by, there are still the same number of people wanting to withdraw cash but with fewer resources. The result of this is that the other cash points run out of cash over, say, a bank holiday, or out of £10 notes meaning they only dispense £20 notes which in itself means the shopkeepers need more change. Also the cash point I use now gives the bulk of its notes in £20 denominations presumably to counter the closure of the RBS ATM.

Hi Malcolm, we completely agree with the points you raise that access to financial services should be seen as a whole system. You’re right, it may well have less impact on some when bank branches or ATMs close in areas where there is a post office or cashback facility nearby. However at the moment, these systems all work in isolation, so when a bank decides to close a branch, or an ATM stops functioning, the issue of whether there are other local services that could provide cash are not fully taken into account. So at the moment, some people might have alternatives whereas others won’t. Also, cashback and post office branches can be brilliant, but they can also have limitations which might mean people are less likely to use/benefit from their services. We agree with you that access to cash should be looked at in a broader way, and are calling for one regulator to be in charge of the system as a whole.

Harry, one of the reasons that ATMs close is because of reduced use; there are not the same mumber of users; hence “clusters” will reduce. However LINK aims to protect ATMs where they are more than 1km from another.

Thanks Morgan. LINK do look at alternatives when “protected” ATMs are threatened and post offices offer most bank customers, including businesses, a range of services. They also often have better hours than bank branches.

Establishing a regulator and coming up with regulations can take a long time. I think Which? should help that process by also looking at constructive suggestions for how cash can be made more readily available, particularly for people who have never lived near a bank, ATM or post office.

In the intro we have Debbie’s comment which seems to illustrate an effective way with cash. Her business has a “circular” flow of cash – some customers pay in cash, some withdraw cash; the same cash is being recirculated. Could happen with a lot of businesses, I’d have thought, if they could feed cash back to customers – debit card for example.

I spend about two weeks in Scotland each year, mainly in the highlands and have some experience of the problems that closure of banks and removal of ATMs has caused. I’ve also discussed this with friends, family and others who live in remote areas.

On my most recent visit, the one ATM in a small town was not working. A couple of years earlier, there was a second ATM, but that was removed when the only bank branch was closed.

What I would like to see – and not just in Scotland – is coordination of local services to meet the needs of those living in an area. There is no point in suggesting that they rely on a Post Office if that may close in the future and is far less convenient than having an ATM that can be used 24/7. .

As I keep suggesting, I believe we need to consider other ways to access cash as well as the “traditional” ones. These would benefit those very many people who have never had the “convenience” of a nearby bank, ATM or post office in England, Wales and NI, as well as Scotland. We have the opportunity to help a lot more people, not just to protect those who are already fortunate.

I made a couple of suggestions in other Conversation:

1. Self-service tills could be used as mini cash dispensers, since these tills are popular and appearing in small supermarkets.

2. More Post Offices be used as sites for ATMs. The Post Offices that have them are usually in built-up areas rather than those where it is a struggle to save cash.

iain loudon says:
28 March 2019

Punish all these banking C.E.O’s and their executive directors every time they close a bank or ATM, they are only looking after their own interests, bonuses, share holdings etc whilst the customer is a nonentity. Their mantra is “Work would be wonderful, if it wasn’t for the customers”. The financial overseers are just as bad, after all don’t they play golf with them, go to the opera or football matches ? It is time a financial Dictator is appointed, one who has the customers interests foremost.

Robert Stewart says:
28 March 2019

I fully support the ready access to cash for all people, and not only in Scotland. How are we to get by without cash on a daily basis. I give my Grandsons a “Saturday Penny”, well not exactly a penny but not a large sum either, am I supposed now to give them a loan of a credit card and tell them not to spend more than their allowance and how are shopkeepers going to react to a young child coming into their shop with a credit card for a few sweeties? No this rush to remove cash is just not on.

Anne says:
28 March 2019

https://theferret.scot/theresa-may-scotland-broadband-powers/ As far as internet is concerned the Scottish government has been investing in upgrading it for the last two years, despite the fact that it is actually not devolved and is the responsibility of the Westminster governent. Access to cash is trickier particularly for the elder and for Scotland’s many rural communities. Where I live ( in Edinburgh) there used to be 4 banks. They have all closed. Also I would agree that there are still a lot of places that are cash only.

Our small B&B only takes cash (or cheques) as the cost of running a card service is too high in comparison to our turnover. We rely on our guests being able to get cash from the Post Office or cash point in the local shop (one of only two on the Isle of Mull, the other is 60 miles away). The ‘Link’ ATM doesn’t honour many cards from abroad (nor does the PO). We also accept BACS payments, of course, but this can be a problem with the slow internet.

Jennifer Edie says:
28 March 2019

We have no RBS in Eyemouth and the Post Office has also closed. There are two cash machines but they give you no choice in how you receive your requested money – no £5 notes, mostly £20.. I am nearly 80 and cannot easily get to Berwick which in now our ‘local’ (nearest)branch. We are offered banking at Haddington which is not what I would call local being 30+ miles away.

A number of years ago, it became apparent that it was actually an agenda to get rid of cash and I believe it’s all part of the rush to “tag and bag” us all, keeping every purchase and payment we make under close surveillance, removing our privacy in all things. I stopped using “loyalty” cards – they have your details attached to every thing you buy and sell your details and your profile for profit – those in-store vouchers are costing you more than they’re worth. I don’t do internet banking – way, way too dangerous – the risk is all yours. I cancelled the contactless facility on my debit cards – easy to do and removes another risk factor. I use cash as much as possible and I don’t use self-service. Just how daft is the public that they are doing away with their own jobs? I don’t need to do these things – I could take the “easy” option, but it’s not worth selling ourselves to the banksters and oligarchs for convenience. They are still robbing the public blind and providing next to nothing in the way of service. The public is being conditioned to believing that these changes are inevitable, but it’s perfectly possible to turn back the clock. I’m sorry to say I think the gentle attempts to ask banks and corporations to be nice is going to amount to a big fat nothing and only by voting with our feet and our cash will anything change.

We drove up to the Cairngorms to celebrate our anniversary and used the Bank of Scotland atm for some cash and a printout. Surprisingly this atm was a Bank of Scotland atm – unlike our atm at home which is free to use but not owned by any Bank .and it seems that the owners of these ‘independant’ atm machines actually charge banks each time they are used for cash printouts etc – sounds quite expensive when you consider just how many times atm machines are used on a daily basis.. Suggestion – why don’t all banks ‘buy out’ all atm machines and supply atm machines for all their customers particularly in areas where banks have been closed. This may sound a silly suggestion but if the banks ‘speculate to accumulate’ they wouldn’t get massive bills from the atm owners – even compulsory purchase these atm machines — their customers would be delighted that their bank actually ‘cares’ for their customers.
Thank you for reading my comments .[whether you consider them serious or sily.]

One problem small business in rural areas have in attempting to use the Post Office to deposit cash takings into accounts held in banks allegedly serviced by Post Office Counters is that the total amount which will be accepted in any one week is very limited and coin must be in full bags of specified total amounts — no odd amounts of coin.

Hazel says:
29 March 2019

While standing in the queue at a RBS bank a customer said he’d travelled from, I think he said Anniesland to get physical access to a bank branch. The one in Maryhill and Anniesland had closed so he’d had to come to Milngavie. The banks seem to be putting profit before it’s owns customers needs, those actions seem to be coldly calculated and uncaring. Do banks have some sort of duty of care towards customers who are perhaps ill, for instance dementia is on the increase, how are some of these people supposed to deal with internet banking, not everyone has a trusted family member or friend to help? The population is getting older resulting in many bank customers being unable to travel long distances to get to a bank branch but want advice and help from a bank teller face to face so need a branch in their high street or supermarket. If there is no such duty of care compelling banks to meet the needs of those customers at the moment then please make it happen, it may well force them to put convenience for their customers before profit and convenience for the banks. I wonder how much stress the closure of bank branches and cash machines has caused and is causing customers. I wonder how many late payments there were due to the closures and how much money banks gained in charges as a result? At a branch I use the tellers are constantly encouraging customers to use the banking machines which may give RBS head office the impression less customers are using the tellers and opting to use the banking machines instead which does not reflect what is actually happening and does not reflect what the customers actually need, more over, seems to reflect what the banks wants the data to show. Figures and data can be misleading, in actual fact at peak times the bank doesn’t have enough tellers on leading to long queues. If the data/percentages show fewer and fewer customers use the bank tellers we might lose that branch and the tellers their jobs. It is as though people who want to and some who need to physically go to a bank and interact with tellers are being discriminated against. Some just want help from a trusted face with banking queries, and many are of the older generation who, partly due to terrible reports in the newspapers about internet theft, do not want to use internet banking or due to health, confusion, or what ever the reason, can’t. Data shows crime rates are down but internet fraud is continually rising. It seems the banks and their internet banking is making it more convenient for criminals to steal from people via the internet . Please get the banks to respect the fact internet banking, although more profitable and convenient for the banks, is not more convenient or profitable for all of it’s customers and could be costing their customers via stress and money due to travel expenses, fraud, even bank charges due to late payments because the customer couldn’t get reasonable or any bank branch access. Some people may or may not say the banks, by closing branches and cash machines, are trying to manipulate and coerce it’s customers into using internet banking by giving them no other viable choice simply because it is more profitable for the banks to do so. Is that even legal? Many customers are old, don’t drive, are ill, have no idea how to use the internet, can’t afford a computer or internet access and for many other reasons can’t and/or don’t do internet banking. With all that in mind and more it is vital banks start increasing the amount of bank branches customers can physically go to in our towns high streets and cities and increase the amount of cash machines available in rural areas. The branches don’t have to be open 24/7, even if they were to be open half days during peak hours convenient to customers, for instance opening at 12 noon and closing at maybe 18:30 would allow many, not all, working people better access and would be better than what is happening at the moment. They could do what some post offices have done and open inside supermarkets which would make them safer. Thankyou for reading this and although not all will agree, I hope it covers peoples concerns and points they wish to be taken into consideration.

There seem to be a number of bank branches open in all these places, including highly rated ones. I’d either switch accounts or open a second account with one local to me.

Would it not be better to require banks to operate shared branches? In the early days of ATMs you had to use the one provided by your bank, but then the Link scheme was introduced to allow us to use ATMs belonging to other banks.

It has been regularly suggested.

The banks cooperated to give the post office part of that role – 11500 offer basic banking services to the vast majority of bank customers with more convenient opening hours. That is about double the number of bank branch closures in the last 10 years.

Where branches close but others remain open I see no reason not to move accounts; apparently it is easy to switch.

I don’t mind whether we have shared bank branches or the services are provided by Post Officers but planning is needed to ensure that these services are not then removed. ATMs be moved to Post Offices when bank branches close.

ATMs are commercial operations that cost money to purchase, install, maintain and supply with cash. The companies that own and provide them expect a return on their investment, partly provided by the interchange payments. If usage drops to such a level that they become uneconomic to run then they are likely to be removed, like any other commercial service. The options to keep them open then include a subsidy – higher LINK payments perhaps as are provided for “protected” ATMs – that we, as bank customers, will effectively pay for. LINK had no power to keep them open.

If they are regarded as a “social service” then are they something that should be provided out of the public coffers? National or council tax?

I do not see it as essential that we can always access cash 24 hours a day; nice, but we can organise our lives better than that, just as we do when we visit the shops, the chemists, fill our car with fuel…….. I think there are alternatives to ATMs that need exploring.

We also always seem to forget the millions of people who have never had convenient access to a post office, bank or ATM. I’d like us to give those “unfortunates” access to cash in a realistic way. Let’s think about the wider population.

When I was in my teens, there were branches of seven different banks in our local market town.I had an account in one which a few years ago closed — nearest branch in a town thirty miles away and which I have no reason to visit for other purposes. I didn’t close my accounts, but opening accounts in another bank seemed a reasonable course of action. By two years ago, because of amalgamations and closures, the number of banks in the town had been reduced to two. I was having problems with the bank in which my accounts were held locally, so to keep my options open I opened an account in the other remaining bank. A year ago it went to opening only two days a week and is due to close in January. It’s a mess. We can’t do business banking through the Post Office — they won’t accept significant amounts of money because they’re a small office. Occasionally we have to deposit significant amounts of money, often thousands of pounds in cash. Last week we banked almost £1000 in coin. We simply couldn’t have done that at a Post Office Counter. In addition, the fact that Post Office Counters will accept only full money bags means that we can never bank all our takings and that makes our accounting procedures very untidy.
Switching banks is no longer an easy option.

The interesting thing is that when most towns and even small suburban shopping parades had a range of banks, there were not many personal account customers compared with today when virtually everyone has a bank account. These local banks survived largely on commercial business, professional firms like solicitors and estate agents, and traders that dealt mainly in cash. Those needs still exist but the banking services that support them, have shrivelled up. Wealthy individuals enjoyed a close relationship with their bank manager and seemed to always be able to produce brand new notes.

Unfortunately, high streets and shopping parades no longer have a broad choice of independent shops and service providers. Alternative payment systems have made a big difference to the way in which people pay for their utilities and the personal service is no longer required.

I am now being charged to obtain cash, via cash machines! Yet if I buy a paper for 60 pence and use a £50 pound note I get my change free! Something has be done to sort this illicit charge being introduced.

The number of free-to-use ATMs is at an all-time high of over 54,000 and over 98% of all ATM cash withdrawals by UK cardholders in the UK are made free of charge. See more about LINK statistics here.“.

Some ATMs are a service provided by commercial companies and they need to recover the cost of providing that service, so charge. Most ATMs are free.

With no banks,all machines are in commercial premises, so no free cash!!

Many ATMs in commercial premises are free to use.

Ken Johnson says:
29 March 2019

A few years ago, we were cruising up the west coast of Scotland and were at Kyleakin. We needed some essential supplies so we went over to Kyle of Lochalsh. All over the town there were signs saying “No cards, Cash only.” None of the ATMs were working and there was a queue out of the bank and along the street. Fortunately we had enough cash with us for our needs. It turned out that the fibre optic cable had been cut, removing all communications including the internet, landline and mobile phone.

Today, there may be no bank there at all.

hazel says:
30 March 2019

malcom r, In one of your comments you mentioned ” if they are regarded as a social service then are they
something that should be provided out of the public coffers? National or council tax?” Many older people have long term loyalty with their banks and have banked with them all their adult lives and don’t want to be forced to change banks because they feel safer with what they know. Consider the rising dementia rates. I don’t know which areas have other banks or how many, if any, but I have been told one of them is also to close. Banks have made a lot of money from it’s customers over the years, especially the long term loyal customers and perhaps it is time banks show loyalty to them instead of only to the banks share holders. It’s almost as though the banks money people don’t give a second thought to customers by having attitudes like, if they don’t like it they can leave. How uncaring and wrong. These are people, humans and should be treated that way and not like they are just numbers. Could it be, at least in the case of the RBS, that something more devious is at work, maybe the bank is disappearing branch by branch? Any individual can give us lots of statistics, advice and information, but fact is, we want more ATM’s and more bank branches and want the banks to stop closing them and to stop taking them away. We are the customers, and customers are always right. Banks are there to help us with our money and to serve us, to serve us they need to be visible and accessible by all customers. Perhaps all bank money people would benefit if they attend courses where they are taught how to care about their customers = human beings, as well as how to treat them like human beings and to meet their banking needs. Meeting customers banking needs is how banks came into existence so is it fair to say if banks do not meet customers needs those banks will at some point no longer be in existence?

Banks are commercial institutions; loyalty is an illusion. Just as customers deserted bank branches to go on line, and use ATMs less and less as they prefer plastic. We need to face up to changing times and devise ways to move on that work for both customers and banks. We can find more ways than expensive ATMs to provide cash if we so choose; that will help a lot more people than just those currently fortunate enough to have the convenience of an ATM within reasonable distance. Simply trying the preserve the status quo won’t work.

I believe many older bank customers do feel a genuine loyalty towards their bank. Granted, that probably doesn’t apply to today’s young folk, who’ve witnessed and felt the effect of the banks’ greed, criminality and incompetence. But older folk often fondly remember the days when their branch manager helped them out in some way, or had the time to say a cheery hello.

So it’s very real for some, and the problems Hazel illuminates are very real for many.

People may well stick with their current provider – I am very happy with the bank I’ve been with for many years, who as far as I know have not shown particular greed, criminality or incompetence. However i believe “loyalty” to be an illusion some people like to think exists. I believe it is inertia, happy with the status quo, on the customer’s side – but many these customers will stop using the branch, use ATMs less, abandon cheques because there are more convenient banking methods. No loyalty to their branch or local ATM.

And “loyalty” from a commercial institution is all about retaining your profitable custom, rather than personal sympathy. Probably the same in public organisations as well – do you get special treatment from your GP because you’ve been with them a long time? Why would long-standing customers receive preferential treatment over new ones?

Things change. We can’t reverse that so need to think openly about how best to adapt.