Fresh fears have been raised over access to cash as figures suggest free-to-use ATMs are vanishing at an “alarming” rate of more than 250 per month.
Cash machine network Link released figures showing a 1,300 fall in the number of free-to-use ATMs between the end of January and the start of July, taking the total to 53,200.
Link has committed to maintain the broad geographical coverage of the ATM network in the UK and to publish data on progress.
It said the number of machines has grown quickly in recent years, at a time when cash use has been declining and the vast majority of closures have been in busy, concentrated areas.
Jenni Allen, managing director of Which? Money, said: “The rate at which free-to-use cashpoints are closing is alarming.”
She said the regulator “must now urgently intervene to stop further closures and ensure that no more consumers are suddenly stripped of their access to cash”.
Meanwhile, 76 out of 2,365 protected free-to-use ATMS closed between the start of February and July.
A protected ATM is one that is more than a kilometre from any other, and its existence helps to maintain access to cash in remote areas.
Of the 76 closed ATMs, 43 have a free Post Office cash over the counter service within a kilometre and 12 have no public access, due to being within a closed company site, for example. No further action is planned in these cases.
The remaining 21 would leave no alternative cash access and these are under investigation. Subsidies to open new ATMs will be provided if closures have left a cash access issue, Link said.
The release of the figures follows a row over the funding of the ATM network.
Link previously confirmed it would go ahead with proposals to cut the fees operators receive from banks when ATMs are used.
Some bodies have raised concerns that thousands of free cash machines could be at risk of being removed or changed to fee-charging.
Link announced a phased reduction in interchange fees – the fee card issuers pay ATM operators. The first reduction came into force on July 1, with a second due in January.
A third reduction, due in January 2020, was cancelled after a fall in the volume of ATM transactions, and a fourth due in January 2021 has been put on hold pending a review next year.
Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury Committee, 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.”
David Clarke, head of policy at campaign group Positive Money, said closures “risk leaving whole communities without access to cash, harming the over two million people who are wholly reliant on cash for their day-to-day shopping”.
The Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) is seeking renewed commitments from banks that people will continue to be have access their cash.
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.”
John Howells, chief executive at Link said: “Consumers are continuing to switch from cash to alternative payment methods, and ATM volumes are falling 6% year-on-year.
“Given this backdrop, it’s critical we protect cash access for those who rely on it, and maintain a comprehensive network of ATMs that’s spread right across the UK.
“The report today is part of our commitment to monitor the situation on the ground and do whatever it takes to ensure people continue to have the free access to cash they want.”