Plea to review ATM fee and protect cash acces

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By Hannah Rodger

Westminster Correspondent

AN APPEAL has been made to rethink charges for ATMs to stop the decline in public access to cash.

A group of MPs, led by the Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone, have written to the Payments Systems Regulator (PSR) about their concerns over access to free cash points.

Mr Stone, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has urged the regulator to review the interchange fee, which is a sum paid by banks to ATM providers every time one of their customers withdraws cash.

It is usually around 25p, and applies to every withdrawal that is made using an ATM that is not provided by the same company as the customer’s bank.

However the MP said that a decision by by the ATM network provider LINK to cut the fee paid by banks to providers for every cash withdrawal has passed costs usually paid by banks onto consumers, resulting in a decline in free-to-use cash machines.

Statistics show that 10,500 free-to-use cash machines have already disappeared across the UK in the past two years, and 1 in 4 ATMs now charging Scots to withdraw cash.

MPs from the LibDems, SNP, Labour and the Conservatives have joined Mr Stone in signing the letter, sent yesterday.

It read: “There is a mass market for cash in the UK in that it is important for everyone, not just the elderly and vulnerable.

“Pre-Covid-19, around 43 million distinct cards withdrew money from ATMs across the UK every month.

“Cash is essential for those needing others to shop on their behalf, whether elderly, vulnerable or self-isolating. “Cash, and particularly ATMs, are also vital in rural areas which have an older population and where alternative facilities may be inaccessible.

“A lack of clear and decisive action on the interchange fee in particular risks the UK’s cash infrastructure disappearing altogether.

“Alternatives such as cashback without a purchase are welcome options for shops but should not be mandated or seen as a viable replacement for a properly funded ATM network which provides free access to cash.”

He added: ” Action on the interchange fee is a simple and cost-effective solution which would ensure communities, including my constituency, continue to benefit from free cash withdrawals in convenient 24-hour locations.”

Speaking after the letter was sent, Mr Stone said it was vital that communities in Scotland, particularly in rural locations, were still able to access cash without paying a fee.

He said: ” It’s unacceptable that my constituents have to pay to access their hard earned cash.

“There are those who are vulnerable or elderly or simply live too far away from a free-to-use ATM – it’s the regular and disadvantaged folks in the community that are bearing the brunt of this.

“I hope the regulator and the Government take up my proposals, rethink their current position and introduce a fairer system for all.”

A motion has been lodged in Westminster about the issue, following on from a debate held last year by David Mundell on the decline in use of cash during the pandemic.

Some studies have shown that as many as 30 per cent of Scots have had cash rejected when trying to pay for items in shops during the crisis, due to the fear that physical tender could spread coronavirus.

Research by the Bank of England has subsequently shown that cash has no greater risk of transferring coronavirus than any other surface.

Experts say that using devices such as pin pads could also have a greater risk as they are being used by more people throughout the day.

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