Campaigners call on government to ensure free access to cash during the coronavirus crisis

A coalition including campaign group Positive Money, the Petrol Retailers Association, Responsible Finance, the Rural Services Network and NoteMachine, the UK’s second largest provider of ATMs, has called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to urgently intervene to protect the UK’s cash infrastructure, by reversing the cuts made to the interchange fee paid by banks to ATM providers for every cash withdrawal, for the duration of the current crisis.

Without this intervention, it is feared ATM providers will have to stop delivery operations, effectively closing all but a select few cash machines, with the remaining ATMs having to switch to ‘pay to use.’

COVID-19 has left the already fragile ATM infrastructure in the UK on the brink of collapse, with ATM operators having seen revenues fall by over 50% in the last two weeks as many sectors have had to close their doors. While other industries have shut up shop, the ATM network is being maintained through this crisis to ensure people can still get access to their cash.

This comes at a time when access to cash has never been more important for the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people who depend on it to go about their daily lives, especially those depending on others to food shop on their behalf, whether elderly, vulnerable or self-isolating.

The decision to cut the fees paid by banks had already put the cash infrastructure under pressure with many ATMs having to switch to ‘pay to use’, impacting heavily on the most vulnerable, as this also coincided with bank branch closures across the UK.

While the government has already committed to legislating to protect access to cash, the COVID-19 crisis risks seeing the cash infrastructure disappear entirely, which would make those commitments impossible to meet.

Fran Boait, Executive Director of Positive Money, said:

"After banks lobbied to slash funding for ATMs, our cash network was left extremely vulnerable to the Coronavirus crisis.

“The government needs to take action to ensure that a temporary fall in cash use doesn't lead to a permanent collapse of this vital form of payment.

“Millions of people rely on cash as a safe, public means of payment, and will continue to do so once the crisis is over.”

Graham Biggs, Chief Executive of the Rural Services Network, said:

“The impact of a lack of access to cash often falls hardest on people in rural areas, particularly older residents who rely on local services, as well as rural shops and businesses battling to stay open.

“This has been compounded by the ongoing covid-19 emergency and cash will play an increasingly crucial role in helping shops to stay afloat and help those who rely on cash or might need a neighbour to shop for them.

“Government must act now to ensure cash does not disappear in rural communities.”

Brian Madderson, Chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, said:

“Never has the widespread availability of cash been so important, particularly that which is free to access.

“ATM fees now pose a major barrier those that rely on cash to go about their daily lives, particularly those needing others to food shop on their behalf, whether elderly, vulnerable or self-isolating.

“Action must be taken now before the entirety of the cash infrastructure is lost forever.”

Peter McNamara, Chief Executive of NoteMachine, whose ATM network provides around 20 per cent of consumer cash in the UK said:

“We are proud that our workforce has ensured that the ATM network is being maintained through this crisis, but even before COVID-19, the UK’s ATM infrastructure was under threat due to the cut the interchange fee that banks had to pay to allow people to access their own cash.

"If the government returned to the original cost-study mechanism for calculating the interchange fee then not only would we be able to maintain out network through this crisis, we would also be able to make all of our ATM network free to use, ensuring that consumers do not bear the cost of using their own cash during this crisis.”

- A copy of this letter can be found here

- A proposal from NoteMachine about how exactly this can be achieved can be found here


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