1,700 ATMs started charging this year so far says Which?

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Communities are being stripped of their free access to cash at an “alarming” rate, with more than 1,000 ATMs having been converted to charge fees in March alone, according to Which?

The consumer group said fees of at least 95p per withdrawal were imposed on nearly 1,700 machines between January and March this year.

Bank branch and ATM closures have sparked widespread concerns about people's future access to cash

Bank branch and ATM closures have sparked widespread concerns about people's future access to cash

It used figures from ATM network Link to make the findings.

Which? said the rate of machines being converted to charge fees appears to be on the increase, with a “staggering” 1,250 conversions thought to have taken place across the UK in March.

Which? said the bulk of the ATMs affected are operated by Cardtronics, the UK’s biggest cashpoint operator.

Bank branch and ATM closures have sparked widespread concerns about people’s future access to cash.

A row broke out last year over Link’s proposals for reducing interchange fees - the fee card issuers pay ATM operators - leading to concerns more free-to-use cash machines will disappear.

Link has put in place specific arrangements to protect free-to-use ATMs more than one kilometre away from their next nearest free-to-use ATM.

A spokeswoman for Cardtronics said independent ATM deployers like them were being left to “fill the gap” following bank branch closures, by providing cash access for communities.

She said: “We have been forced into charging a fee for cash withdrawals on some of our machines where Link’s cuts have left us with no choice.

“The decision on whether to introduce a fee is taken on a case-by-case basis and reflects the economic viability of the individual machine.

“We only ever charge a fee when there is no other option apart from removing the machine altogether.”

A recent Access to Cash Review funded by Link, but independent from it and chaired by former chief of the Financial Ombudsman Service Natalie Ceeney, described the cash system as “on the verge of collapse”.

Which? said that while digital payments are on the rise in the UK, 2.2 million people are almost entirely reliant on cash in their daily lives.

It warned that the UK risks drifting into a “no-cash” society which could shut people out of paying for local goods and services.

The consumer champion is urging the Government to appoint a regulator to protect consumers and businesses and ensure no-one is denied the ability to access cash.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “Communities are being stripped of free access to cash at an alarming rate that could hit the most vulnerable in our society the hardest, while denying millions of people free withdrawals.