Quarter of all UK cash machines now charge fees

atm fees

More than one in four cash machines are charging people to withdraw their money at a time when banks are saving millions by closing branches, according to the consumer group Which?

Research shows the collective amount people are paying to withdraw their money has surged as free machines disappear, from £75m in 2018 to £104m last year.

There has been a spike in the number of ATMs charging customers to withdraw. In 2019 there were 15,277 such machines in the UK, compared with 11,120 in 2018, according to figures from the network operator Link.

It can cost up to £2 to withdraw money from a fee-charging ATM. Behind the surge in the number of charging machines is the switch to contactless payments for small purchases and a shakeup in how the network is funded. There have been cuts in interchange fees payments made by banks to cash machine operators every time money is withdrawn, making free ATMs less viable. There are 60,291 cash machines in the UK, down from 63,160 the year before.

While consumers are being charged more, banks are saving money through branch closures and reducing the numbers of ATMs they operate. Which? says this has resulted in £120m of savings for the banks since the beginning of 2018.

The consumer group estimates that more than 8,700 free ATMs have closed in the past two years, with rural communities worst affected. The closure of bank branches – about 1,200 in the same period – has reduced access to ATMs and can force people to use fee-charging machines or face having to travel further afield to find a free-to-use one.

Gareth Shaw at Which? said: “Banks must take greater responsibility for ensuring customers are supported to make the transition to digital if branches close and that those who are reliant on cash are not left behind by changes to the banking landscape.”

The group has called for the government to introduce legislation to protect access to free withdrawals. Natalie Ceeney, who chaired the independent Access to Cash review on the need for cash in society, said the rising number of fee-charging ATMs was a “tax on the most vulnerable in society”.

She said: “The startling fact that a quarter of all ATMs now charge consumers to access their own money should worry us.”

The chief executive of Link, John Howells, said he was keen to see initiatives in which retailers were incentivised to provide free cashback for customers. “As people use less cash, many ATMs will become less economically viable, which means some ATMs will switch to charging,” he said. Link operates the largest cash machine network in the UK.