Thousands ask for free ATMs as system reaches 'verge of collapse'

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Free cash machines are disappearing across the UK, according to Which?. (PA)

The chancellor is being urged to safeguard free cash machines in the upcoming budget, as new figures show they are disappearing across the country.

Consumer group Which? on Wednesday called for chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce new measures to protect the UK’s cash network in next month’s budget.

About 9,500 free-to-use cash machines have been axed in just the last two years, according to Which?, leaving many people with no choice but to pay to access their money through fee-charging ATMs.

Areas such as Royston Heath in North Hertfordshire, East Malling in Kent, and Essington in Staffordshire South now have no free-to-use ATMs, Which? said. Parts of Birmingham, meanwhile, have seen the number of free-to-use ATMs drop by between 80% and 91% in recent years.

Read more: 'Dramatic collapse' of cash in UK could exclude millions

Which? has created a tool allowing people to request free ATMs in their area. The group said it had so far received over 3,100 requests spanning the length of the country.

‘Verge of collapse’

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said the figure showed “countless communities across the UK crying out for free access to cash.” 

“Many people have been left struggling from the double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures — and suffered at the hands of industry mismanagement that has left Britain’s cash landscape on the verge of collapse,” Shaw said in statement.

British chancellor Rishi Sunak arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, in London on 14 February 2020. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)

Shaw’s warning came just day after HSBC announced more branch closures across the UK and less than a week after a warning that the UK’s cash system could collapse.

A review last year found the UK cash system was at risk of collapse without government intervention and its authors said last week things were deteriorating quicker than expected.

Read more: Taxpayers may have to pay to keep cash alive

“This budget will decide the future of cash,” Shaw said. “The chancellor has a huge opportunity here to protect cash for the millions of people who rely on it.”

‘A vital lifeline’

Other groups backed Which?’s call for action.

“Cash remains the payment method of choice for millions of small business customers, and for many it is still an essential part of the payments mix,” said Mike Cherry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Cherry said the decline of free cash machines and the rise of fee charging ones made it “harder for small firms to compete.”

Read more: UK cash system is 'at risk of collapse'

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a left-wing think tank, said 8 million people rely on cash in the UK.

“Cash remains a vital lifeline for families managing a tight budget, those who rely on carers to help manage their money, or workers in the informal economy,” Rachel Statham, IPPR senior research fellow said in a statement.

“For many, the benefits of cash payments – in terms of control, trust and privacy – have not yet been replicated by digital alternatives.”

Former chancellor Philip Hammond last year set up a joint task force aimed at protecting access to cash, but the group has yet to make any official recommendations.

A Bank of England-commissioned report last year suggested the government may have to fund cash machines to keep the network running.