ATMs are vanishing at "alarming rate" as thousands close each year

Millions of Brits who rely on hard cash to pay for groceries and bills are facing hardship following the closure of thousands of hole-in-the-wall machines.

Consumer watchdog Which? has revealed between June and December 2018, an “alarming rate” of cashpoints were axed, with 488 ATMS scrapped every month.

With more than 25 million people dependent on readies, the watchdog has warned a large chunk of the population is struggling to access “the cash they rely on”.

According to its research, the last six months of 2018 saw almost 3,000 cashpoints disappear with half of those free-to-use machines.

And over the course of the year, 102 “protected machines” in remote areas were also scrapped with access to cash further affected by 3,314 banks closing their doors since 2015.

Which? warned that the nation was in danger of “drifting into a cashless society” leaving communities unable to pay for local goods and services.

And it is calling for a cash machine czar to protect access to money for those who depend on notes for everyday transactions.

It found that a fifth of households were around two miles from their nearest bank yet almost three quarters of Brits used cash “frequently”.

The survey revealed almost two thirds did not want to see notes and coins disappear from daily transactions and more than half had been in a situation where only cash payments were taken.

But data from cash machine network Link revealed cash machine withdrawals fell sharply in some parts of the country with London down by 8.5% and the South East by 7.7% between 2017-18.

The North West, Scotland and Wales were down by 3.1% and Northern Ireland by 2.1%.

Which? said while digital payments were increasing there was “still real appetite across the country for access to cash from consumers and businesses alike”.

And the watchdog said a series of IT glitches have caused chaos for millions, leaving them locked out of accounts and unable to pay bills.

Jenni Allen, managing director at 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.”

And today (Tues) the consumer champion is launching its “Freedom to pay. Our way.” save our cash machines campaign with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “The rapid pace of bank branch and cashpoint closures is hurting small businesses all over the UK.

“Millions of small firms have customers who want to pay using notes and coins. The vast majority of shoppers either use cash frequently or want to see access to it maintained.

“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. Otherwise we risk drifting into a cashless environment that we’re simply not ready for yet.”

There are 63,300 ATMs in the UK of which 11,100 carry a fee to use, figures from Link reveal.

Most are concentrated in towns and city centres with 80% said to be within 300 metres of another cashpoint.

In a statement Link said: “As payment habits continue to change and more customers shop online or use contactless cards, the UK needs to work out how to maintain cash access, including from ATMs and also from other outlets such as the Post Office and from retailers’ tills.

“Link’s Financial Inclusion Programme is key to ensuring that the UK’s cash infrastructure continues to deliver free access to cash for consumers regardless of the marked decline in cash usage.”

Next month an independent Access to Cash review will reveal its findings and recommendations on ATM use and “cash access requirements over the next five to fifteen years”.

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