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01 March 2018

Small firms urge LINK to protect free-to-use cash machines

A new poll from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) indicates that half of small firms are already more than one kilometre away from their nearest free-to-use cashpoint, ahead of a proposed cut in ATM funding from July. 

The new findings will inform a parliamentary debate on the issue of access to cash taking place today.

FSB’s research suggests that one in seven (15%) small firms surveyed are at least five kilometres from their nearest free-to-use ATM.  

The majority (51%) of small businesses with a view on free-to-use ATMs say cashpoints are important to their business. Among retailers, the figure rises to six in ten (59%).

The majority (53%) of retailers with an opinion on the issue say that losing access to their nearest free-to-use cash machine would hurt revenues. Around one in three (31%) state that it would impact on their ability to retain customers.   

From 1 July, LINK is set to cut the interchange fee paid by card providers to ATM operators. LINK has stated that it will continue its Financial Inclusion Programme, with the drop in interchange fee not applying to free-to-use ATMs that are one kilometre or more from the next free-to-use cashpoint.

FSB and Which? have launched the #SaveOurCashpoints campaign, calling on the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) to pause LINK’s plans while it conducts a full market review. Research from Which? indicates that the nearest cashpoint for one in five (20%) consumers is already more than 30 minutes away or too far to reach on foot. 

FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “Access to cash is vital to local high streets all over the country. Many small firms are already miles from their nearest free-to-use cash point. At a time when access to cash has already been restricted by thousands of bank branch closures in recent years, LINK’s proposals are set to make a bad situation worse. 

“LINK is defending a cut in its interchange fee by promising to improve an inclusion programme that’s failing. Quite how it can achieve its, to date, illusive target of bringing everyone within a kilometre of a free-to-use ATM with less funding is a mystery.    

“There’s also the issue of cash machine provision in towns where one ATM isn’t enough to meet demand. We already hear stories of towns running out of cash at busy times. The one kilometre commitment is hollow when you really start to look at it.  

“The Treasury Committee, Payment Systems Regulator and independent ATM operators with a majority share of the remote cash machine market have all voiced concerns about LINK’s plans.

“The PSR’s current ‘wait and see’ approach is not helpful. We need to see plans paused to allow time for a comprehensive assessment. Increasing numbers of consumers are undoubtedly opting for cashless payment methods, the processing of which come at a cost to small firms. But more card payments are not an excuse for putting pressure on less-profitable ATMs through reduced funding. A similar approach to bank branches is damaging communities all over the UK.  

“It’s time for the PSR to step-in before real damage is done.”

Which? Money Expert Gareth Shaw said: “It’s clear that a reduction in free-to-use ATMs would hit consumers and businesses across the country hard, leaving communities struggling to access the cash they need.

“We are concerned that LINK cannot guarantee that thousands of machines vital to peoples' daily lives won't be closed. The regulator must conduct an urgent review to ensure that consumers - and businesses - aren't stripped of access to cash."