Up to 30,000 free-to-use cash machines – 45% of the UK total – are on course to disappear over the next five years amid cuts in fees received by operators, it is being claimed.
According to the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA), changes to the so-called interchange fees – charges paid to operators by banks per withdrawal – being imposed by the LINK network will cut access to cash at a time when banks are shutting more branches.
LINK has previously argued that the cost of running its network is unsustainable at a time when more people are banking online and using contact-less card payments.
It announced on Tuesday that it was bringing forward a series of measures that it said would safeguard access to free cash.
It said a new fee structure would “shift incentives from deploying ATMs in city centres to rural and less-affluent communities” to secure free-to-use machines for the whole of the country.
The changes were to include, it said, making free ATMS one kilometre or more from the next free machine being exempt from cuts to fees – with those in rural communities getting an enhanced subsidy to incentivise continued provision.
The majority of machines – mostly in major towns and cities – would see a phased reduction in the interchange fee, it said.
John Howells, LINK’s chief executive, said: “LINK is committed to protecting free access to cash.
“The UK has a near record number of ATMs, yet the recent growth has led to the majority of these being placed in busy areas where there simply is no need for a new ATM.”
He said the country was on course for a rebalancing of the network to “protect and install new ATMs in locations that really need them.”
But LINK was accused of ignoring criticism of fee cuts in its consultation – with MPs warning they would oppose any reduction in access to free cash.
The ATMIA’s executive director for Europe, Ron Delnevo, told Sky News it was “rubbish” to suggest the country had too many cash points amid industry predictions of a cash-less society.
He said: “There are forecast to be a further 3,000 bank branch closures in the next four years.
“Each branch has on average two ATMs, so those branch closures will see ATM numbers fall by 6,000 anyway.
“Why does LINK interchange have to be reduced to cause more ATMs to be removed?
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“LINK’s proposed reduction will render 25,000 to 30,000 free-to-use ATMs away from bank branches uneconomic over the next 4 to 5 years.
“Many will have to be removed or switch to pay-to-use.”