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250 free-to-use ATMs closing every month, Link figures show

Pressure grows on banks and the operator of the UK’s cash machine network to maintain access to cash as demand falls.

There are now 53,200 free-to-use ATMs in the UK

It has been revealed that free-to-use cash machines are being withdrawn at a record rate of more than 250 per month.

Figures from the operator of the largest UK network, Link, showed 1,300 ATMs being shut down over the five months until the end of July.

Link said it represented the first decline in more than 20 years.

It explained the bulk of the closures were being made in town and city centres with a wealth of alternative facilities, as demand for cash falls in favour of mobile and contactless card payments.

However, there was also further criticism after Link’s statistics showed 76 out of 2,365 protected free-to-use ATMs were among those to vanish.

Demand for cash has dropped as alternative payment technologies increase

A protected ATM is one that is more than a kilometre from any other cash machine or place where cash can be accessed without charge.

Link said 21 of the 76 closures did not meet the criteria and were under investigation.

Which? Money described the rate of closures as “alarming” and called for regulators to intervene.

The statistics were released in the wake of a funding row in which Link cut the amount it receives from banks for withdrawals, leaving campaigners warning there was no incentive for banks to maintain services.

The first reduction in the so-called interchange fee came into force on 1 July, with a second due in January.

Nicky Morgan, who chairs the treasury committee of MPs, said: “Today’s figures show that, even before the interchange fee changes took effect, one protected ATM closed every other day.

“These protected ATMs will represent the only feasible means of accessing cash for many people, so this is a worrying trend.”

Contactless payments are mostly restricted to values of 30 pounds or below

The Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) responded by saying it was seeking renewed commitments.

Mrs Morgan continued: “The PSR is rightly concerned by the closures, but I fear its regulatory intervention may be too little, too late.

“It must ensure that Link is held to its commitment to maintain the broad geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs.

“The committee has been clear that this is a major test of what is a relatively new regulator, but the banks, the ATM deployers, and Link itself also have a duty to ensure consumers don’t lose out.”

Hannah Nixon, the PSR’s managing director, said: “This highlights the challenges of maintaining a sustainable ATM network when the demand for cash is falling.

“In the short term, free-to-use ATMs continue to play a vital role in helping people access their money.

“The requirements we intend to place on Link will help ensure that Link achieves their commitment to protecting the geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs across the UK.”

Link chief executive, John Howells, said: “Consumers are continuing to switch from cash to alternative payment methods, and ATM volumes are falling 6% year-on-year.

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