Closures rising

Small firms body demands action to protect free access to cash

RBS branch

More cash machines are closing or charging (pic: Terry Murden)

One in 10 free UK cash dispensers have either closed or started charging fees since January last year, with deprived communities disproportionately impacted by the changes, according to consumer group Which?

Anabel Hoult of Which? and Natalie Ceeney of the Access to Cash Review have written to the Chancellor to urge the Government to do more to protect consumer access to cash.

The calculations from Which? suggest that hundreds of free-to-use ATMs are closing every month across the UK. 

In Scotland, the largest losses have been in Glasgow Central (down 27), Edinburgh North and Leith (down 25) and Glasgow North (down 22).

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman Mike Cherry, said: “Millions of small business owners still have customers that want to pay in cash. Often these customers are among society’s most vulnerable: the elderly, those on tight budgets and those with disabilities. 

“It’s vital that banks, regulators and the Government work together to arrest the decline of our cash network. Otherwise we risk yet another blow to our high streets: reduced footfall as bank branches and ATMs are lost and less cashflow in local economies. 

“There’s no silver bullet here. The drop in ATM interchange fee certainly seems to have had an impact, but we need to think bigger and more collaboratively when addressing this challenge.”

Mr Cherry urged a rethink in how bank branches operate.

“More bank branches need to become community centres – providing meeting rooms, cafes and digital facilities alongside in-person banking support,” he said. ” Elsewhere, you now have a major card provider offering financial incentives to small firms that offer cashback, which is a helpful development. 

“The Post Office also has a role to play, and more should be done to improve and standardise its banking offer across locations. Then there are tax incentives to consider – to date, our regressive business rates system has not been kind to shop owners who decide to host a cashpoint and thereby provide a vital public service. 

“Freedom is the watchword here. Small business owners must be allowed to go cardless, cashless or accept both cash and card, whatever works best for them. The push for a ‘minimum service guarantee’ must not stray into burdening small firms with fresh rules and regulations.”

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