NEARLY 500 cash machines, including 250 free-to-use ATMS, are being axed every month leaving millions unable to withdraw funds.
Now, campaigners are calling for a regulator to protect access to cash and to stop banks closing ATM machines such an “alarming” rate.
Consumer group Which? found that cash machines disappeared at a rate of 488 per month between June and December last year, and over half of them were free to withdraw money from.
It said it is also concerned about bank closures leaving communities struggling, with 3,300 UK branches closing their doors since 2015.
An authority that could apply “urgent regulatory action” will help manage the move towards digital payments and intervene when necessary to protect cash as a payment method, claims Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses.
It also warned that people will be shut out of paying for goods and services if the UK is allowed to drift into a cashless society.
Despite the rise of digital banking and contactless payments, the group previously found nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of people still use cash frequently.
Jenni Allen, managing director, Which? Money, said: “We have serious concerns that the alarming rate of cashpoint and bank branch closures risks leaving people facing an uphill battle to access the cash they rely on.
“Cash is also a vital backup as fallible digital payments grow in popularity – so the Government must appoint a regulator to oversee these changes and ensure no-one is excluded and left struggling to go about their daily lives.”
Its national chairman Mike Cherry said bank branches and cashpoints create a “natural draw for high streets and town centres”.
He added: “With our cash infrastructure increasingly under attack, it’s time for a regulator to be given explicit responsibility for protecting access to notes and coins.”
Concerns about ATM closures were heightened last year when a row broke out about changes to the future funding of cashpoints.
ATM network Link recently said cash machine operators are to be given “super premiums” to help keep ATMs in remote areas open from April.
Around 1,000 cash machines will initially be eligible and the enhanced premiums will vary in size depending on how well a particular ATM is used.
A spokesman for trade association UK Finance said: “Bank branches play an important role in the life of local communities and decisions to close them are never taken lightly.”
He also pointed out that customers can carry out everyday banking needs via the Post Office or through a mobile banking branch in more rural communities.
A Link spokesman said that it is continuing to deliver free access to cash for consumers despite the decline in the amount us relying on cash.
A spokesman for the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) – part of the Financial Conduct Authority – said that it is continuing to monitor Link’s commitment to keeping free-to-use cash machines accessible.
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