Free cash machines vanishing at alarming rate, says Which?

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Free-to-use cash machines have been removed at a rapid rate across the UK, according to study by Which?

Nearly 1,700 machines started charging for withdrawals in the first three months of the year, with the majority starting to charge in March, according to the consumer lobby group.

Cardtronics, which runs most of those, and fellow provider NoteMachine are both likely to charge at more machines

That could mean the country release 1[ads1]3% of its free ATMs in only a few months.

19659005] Link, which reviewed ATMs, started to cut the fee, known as the interchange rate, last year. It is slowly reduced from 25p to 20p per withdrawal, in annual steps over four years.

Link said at the time that the move was aimed at protecting the ATM network. It left the fee for free-to-use ATMs – which are 1km or more from the next nearest cash machine – unchanged.

ATM operators receive the interchange fee from banks each time one of their cash machines is used.

NoteMachine, which operates 7,000 cash machines across the UK, said the cut in the interchange rate meant it was considering introducing fees up to 4,000 or its machines.

by reversing the interchange fee reductions, NoteMachine will be forced to start converting ATMs to surcharging, "said chief executive Peter McNamara.

Rival ATM machine operator Cardtronics has said it is likely to convert another 1,000 of its ATMs over the coming months. It said it had been forced into a fee for cash withdrawals on some of our machines where Link's cuts left us with no choice.

There were about 52,000 free cash machines in the country at the start of the year.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which ?, said: " could hit the most vulnerable in our society the hardest, while denying millions of people free withdrawals.

method is shut out from accessing the cash they need in their daily lives. "

" I'm shut out of cash "

Reported charges range from 50p to £ 1.99 and the situation angered by the respondents to the Which? survey

Anita Brakewell, from Blackpool, said: "Being disabled means I do not have the option of walking to the next free cash machine, so these charges shut out of cash that's important to my daily life.

"My town has also suffered from banking branch closures, making it hard to access the cash and financial services I need."

And Robin Farnsworth, from Kirkcaldy, said: "I stopped using the local cashpoint when it started I need for everyday life. "

Analysis by Personal Finance Correspondent, Simon Gompertz

] There is a fierce, three-way struggle on the future of our network of free-to-use cash machines.

The upstarts are independent operators like Cardtronics and Note Machines which now have the most ATMs. [19659005] Then there are the banks. They have to pay the operators each time their customers use a non-bank machine.

Finally, we have Link which runs the network and has been trying to get the operators to accept lower payments from the banks.

Two cuts The payment has been pushed through, prompting Cardtronics to say it is "forced" to charge the customer instead.

And the backdrop is that we are using less cash, which means fewer withdrawals and less chance that a cash machine will pay its way

So it's not clear where this will end

But more will cause anger and frustration amongst those who depend heavily on cash.

Bank of England figures show that 2.2 million people are almost entirely Reliant on cash.

Last year's Access to Cash study, published in December, found that more than eight million people would struggle to cope in a cashless society, which would present real challenges for 25 million UK residents.

However. , cash use has halved in the past 10 years and in 2017, debit cards overtook notes and coins as the UK's most popular payment method.

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