Link to provide free ATMs to community groups on request

Number of ATMs have reduced as cashless payments have risen. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA

People living in remote areas of the UK will soon be able to request a free-to-use ATM, as operator Link launches a new fund.

The Community Access to Cash Delivery Fund will be made available for requests for free-to-use cash machines in places with poor access, and is part of measures aimed at tackling concerns that it is becoming harder for people to take out cash.

Those within communities who want to apply could include individuals, councils, community groups or MPs. If an application meets the criteria and there is a suitable location, Link will fund the new ATM directly.

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The £1m fund pot comes from a levy on Link’s bank and building society members. More money could be released when needed, the provider said.

Sites can be suggested at info@link.co.uk. Applications will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, depending on factors such as distance to nearest free ATM, the availability of a nearby Post Office and site security.

If there is another free cash machine within 1km of the community and no particular geographical challenges to reaching it, applications will be unlikely to be successful.

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Link said the move builds on its commitment to protect free access to cash for every high street in the UK. In August, it announced five new pilot sites in Battle, Bungay, Nuneaton, Tywyn in Wales, and Durness in Scotland, where a new ATM would be directly commissioned.

More sites that will get a free ATM have already been identified and are in Deal, Ebbw Vale, Margate, Middleton, Wilmslow and York.

John Howells, Link chief executive said: “This is an important development, which will allow communities to directly contact Link and get things done to help consumers.

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“Link is looking forward to getting the first requests for ATMs so we can help solve access to cash issues across the whole UK.”

The new fund complements the existing system where commercial operators decide whether a site is profitable.

ATM and bank branch closures have fuelled concerns about access to cash. Over 3,000 bank branches have disappeared from UK high streets since 2015, research by Which? recently revealed. Meanwhile, about 488 cash points disappeared every month between June and December in 2018.

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Meanwhile, hundreds of remaining bank branches have slashed their hours, with some just open for one or two days a week.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The vulnerable, elderly and those in rural communities rely on having free access to cash, so this move from Link and the Community Access to Cash Delivery Fund is a promising step in the right direction.

“However, this is just one proposal in a range of solutions needed to tackle the growing access to cash problem, because cutting the number of free to access cash machines has an impact on footfall in town centres.

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“At a time when small firms are struggling on the high street, every pound spent on charging ATMs means money not being spent on local and small firms.

“When an ATM is removed from a local area, we know it is especially difficult to get one reinstalled later on, and we hope this move can help.”