The firm behind a fifth of the country’s free cash machines is to start charging customers nearly £1 a time to take their money out.
Notemachine will charge for many of its 10,500 devices following changes to how the ATMs are funded.
The new fee will deal a brutal blow to the elderly, families and small businesses – with the axe likely to fall hardest in rural and suburban areas.
It also paves the way for many machines to be shut down completely if they are still unprofitable after the switch.
The firm behind a fifth of the country’s free cash machines is to start charging customers nearly £1 a time to take their money out (stock image)
The free ATM network is paid for by high street banks such as Lloyds and Natwest, which give a fee to operators including Notemachine when a customer withdraws money using their card. But the banks have now cut these fees.
The change – which has reduced fees from 25p per transaction to 22.5p – came as the five biggest high street banks made a combined £30 billion of profit in 2018.
Notemachine is now planning to charge customers an estimated 95p fee at about half of its machines. The rest, which are operated under contracts for big businesses such as supermarkets, are likely to be spared.
Notemachine chief executive Peter McNamara said: ‘It’s just not sustainable and it’s causing a collapse in the number of ATMs in the country.
‘A lot of areas – particularly rural areas, and urban areas outside the city centre – face a really severe risk of either not having ATMs or being forced to pay for cash withdrawals.
‘The people who most need cash are people who probably need to budget very carefully, and there are many millions of them.’ No date has yet been set for charging Notemachine customers.
When a customer uses their card at an independent ATM, their bank pays the operator a so-called interchange fee.
We have one cashpoint… and three empty banks
Hit hard: Peter Tomkins, who owns a health food shop
The once thriving community of Milnthorpe now has only one cash machine left.
The large village straddling the A6 near the Cumbria-Lancashire border had three banks six years ago, but two are now empty and the third is earmarked for demolition.
Peter Tomkins, who owns a health food shop, said: ‘The closures have stopped people coming into the village from outlying areas. We have to rely on local customers to provide us with cash. But they can’t get money from the banks so the cash machine is the last source.’
He added: ‘Some people want to use cash. The banks have been very selfish.’
Craft shop owner Mary Smith said banks were ‘trying to create a cash-free society, but people want the choice’.
The fee level is determined by an organisation called Link, which is owned by the banks and ATM operators. Link last year agreed to reduce the interchange fee by 10 per cent – from an average 25p per withdrawal to 22.5p – following lobbying by lenders, chiefly Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland. At the time, campaigners warned it would make many devices unprofitable, triggering a wave of closures which would create ‘cash machine deserts’ where it was impossible to withdraw money.
At least 3,200 free ATMs have shut since January 2018, according to Link, leaving 51,300 still open.
Mike Cherry, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘Cash machines are still vital to communities right across the UK.
‘When they shut, that usually means less cash flow in local economies, reduced footfall on high streets and a drop in sales at surrounding small businesses. All that adds up to slower growth.’
It comes after a stark warning from the Bank of England’s chief cashier Sarah John that paper money could disappear altogether.
Miss John said: ‘In order for cash to remain a viable payment method, the public needs access both to withdraw cash and to deposit cash. And if retailers cannot easily deposit the cash they receive from customers, they may choose to stop accepting it.’
About 13 billion payments a year are still made with cash – or more than a third of the total.
A Link spokesman said: ‘Free access to cash is vital for consumers and the UK enjoys extensive coverage that Link is committed to protecting. We will investigate to make sure there is no negative impact on access to cash for consumers.’
The ATM network is supervised by the Payment Systems Regulator. Last October it ordered Link to make sure the public could still access free ATMs in all parts of Britain, regardless of the fee cut.
A spokesman said: ‘We are aware that some ATMs have changed from free-to-use ATMs to pay-to-use. We are looking into this and if it impacts on the commitment Link has made to us to protect the broad geographic spread of free-to-use ATMs, we will take action.’