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Demand for 'free-to-use' ATMs surge after Link announces scheme

Abigail Fenton
A third of ATMs have disappeared from Britain's high streets since 2015, Which? data shows. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images
Lot of cash machines have started charging a levy leading to a surge in demand for free ATMs. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA

A scheme to fund free-to-use ATMs in parts of the UK with poor access to cash has seen an overwhelming number of applications.

The scheme by operator Link, which was announced last month, allows consumers and community to request free-to-use cash machines in their areas. If an application meets the criteria and there is a suitable location, Link will fund the new ATM directly.

More than 100 areas have already applied for a free cash machine, with requests coming from every corner of the country. Isolated rural communities, deprived urban areas and small towns have all been in touch, Link said.

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BBC News reported that the initial £1m funding will only cover about 50 cash machines. However, Link said more money could be released when needed.

The scheme is part of measures aimed at tackling concerns that it is becoming harder for people to take out cash.

In August, Link announced five new pilot sites in Battle, Bungay, Nuneaton, Tywyn in Wales, and Durness in Scotland, where a new ATM would be directly commissioned. These new ATMs will be funded by a levy on Link’s bank and building society members.

READ MORE: One in 10 UK adults rarely uses cash amid rise of contactless and mobile banking

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

In the past couple of weeks, three new ATMs directly commissioned by Link have been installed in locations in Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

John Howells, Link chief executive, said: “It’s great that we’ve had so much interest so far. Many of the applications show there are locations around the country where there is a cash access problem.

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“We’ve already visited 10 of these locations and will be working hard to listen to every community that has got in touch.

“We want to hear from more communities that think they have an issue. Where there is a problem, Link will take action.”

ATM and bank branch closures have fuelled concerns about access to cash. Research by Which? shows a third of ATMs and over 3,000 bank branches have disappeared from UK high streets since 2015, with deprived areas most affected.

READ MORE: More than half on UK staycations “have struggled to access cash”

There were 3,303 bank branch closures, equating to 34% of the network, between January 2015 and August 2019, the consumer group found.

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

Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “This is a positive step that may help to plug the gaps created by the alarming rate of bank branch and cashpoint closures across the UK – so Link must deal with requests swiftly and aim to provide free machines for all those left cut off from cash.

READ MORE: Cash payments now account for only 20% of UK spending

“But it’s clear this scheme alone won’t fix the country’s broken cash landscape. Appalling mismanagement by the industry and regulators has left the cash system on the brink of collapse and communities are being presented with a confusing array of schemes claiming to fix the problem.

“That’s why the government must intervene to protect cash for as long as it is needed.”