UK bank customers will pay £250m to withdraw their own money from fee-charging cash machines in 2006, according to a report released by the Nationwide Building Society which shows there has been a 16% increase in the number of fee-charging ATMs during the past year.
Nationwide says the number of fee charging ATMs in the UK stood at 23,931 units at the end of September 2005, compared with 20,685 at the end September 2004. At the same time the number of free machines dropped 0.3% to 32,355 units.
Stuart Bernau, Nationwide executive director, says: "If this pattern continues, there is a real possibility that free access to cash will not survive other than at bank and building society branches and a few other locations such as main post offices."
Nationwide has released the study prior to MPs meeting in Westminster to back its call for greater transparency regarding the fee charging status of cash machines.
A survey for Nationwide found that 93% of British adults thought charging was unacceptable, while 97% thought all ATMs should display red or green stickers so that people could tell easily if they would be charged a fee.
The National Consumer Council (NCC) has echoed Nationwide's calls for the cash machine industry to halt the decrease in free ATMs.
Claire Whyley at the NCC, says: "This situation is unacceptable. It is essential that people have easy and cost-free access to their money. ATM charges are simply another example of the poor paying more — in this case they are paying a high price just to access their own money!"
But Link, which currently regulates the UK's ATM network, claims there is no current evidence that free cash machines are under threat. The organisation says there has in fact been a two per cent rise in the number of free machines at non-branch locations over the past year and that 96% of cash withdrawals are free.
Link admits that the number of charging cash machines has risen but insists that the vast majority of new charging machines are in locations that previously had no ATMs.
Following the Treasury Select Committee report on fee-charging ATMs in March this year Link introduced tougher rules on signage that will see ATM operators fined or disconnected from its network for non-compliance.
But Nationwide is calling for the entire ATM industry to adopt a more unambiguous, "at a glance" green or red signage stating whether consumers will be charged for using a cash machine. So far HBOS is the only bank to agree to display the new signs.