WORRYING new data reveals that 1,700 previously free-to-use cash machines began charging users in the first three months of the year.
These machines are slapping users with fees of 95p or more per withdrawal, according to figures obtained by Which?.
This may seem like a small figure (3 per cent) compared to the around 52,000 free-to-use cashpoints available at the start of the year, but Which? is concerned that more could follow suit.
It says major ATM providers have already warned that thousands of free-to-use machines could begin charging fees following changes in the way they are funded.
And the consumer group reckons this could see one in 10 free cashpoints axed in a matter of months.
Which? warns that this could leave poor and vulnerable people – who are most reliant on cash – without the money they need to pay for bills and food.
It says 2.2million people rely almost entirely on cash in their daily lives.
Which? couldn’t tell us where these affected ATMs are located, but in some places it’s got so bad that one British town has NO cash machines with residents forced to cough up £3.50 every time they want money.
Part of the problem is that the fees ATM providers receive from banks was cut in July 2018 by network operator LINK, making it less profitable for them to offer the service for free.
Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “Communities are being stripped of free access to cash at an alarming rate that could hit the most vulnerable in our society the hardest, while denying millions of people free withdrawals.”
It comes as a recent independent review of cash usage found that the system is “on the verge of collapse” with bank branch and ATM closures just the “tip of the iceberg”.
The Access to Cash Review also said that if the use of cash declines at its current pace, it’ll be gone by 2026 – just seven years’ time.
But it’s not just consumers who are losing out. Federation of Small Businesses national chairman, Mike Cherry, says small companies are also suffering.
He said: “Many small firms still have customers that want to pay in cash. Every pound lost to ATM charges is a pound not spent with small businesses.
“Charging shoppers to withdraw their own money is wrong and dampens consumer appetite, causing a drag on local growth in the process.”
But Cardtronics, which is behind most of the new fee introductions according to Which?, says banks and ATM operator LINK are to blame.
A spokesperson said: “As banks continue to execute their strategy of branch closures nationwide, this leaves independent ATM deployers such as Cardtronics to fill the gap by providing local cash access for communities.
“Although we can operate ATMs more economically than anyone else, we have been forced into charging a fee for cash withdrawals on some of our machines where LINK’s cuts have left us with no choice.”