With a UK general election looming, consumer group Which? is calling on political parties to bring in legislation to guarantee that all communities have access to cash.
Concern has been growing among consumer groups and politicians about the removal of fee-free ATMs and bank branches in small communities, which is leading to the creation of 'cash deserts'.
In March, the independent Access to Cash Review said the UK is not ready to go cashless and set out a series of measures necessary to ensure no one is left behind as the country moves towards a digital society.
However, according to new analysis from Which?, there are 259 communities across the UK that have poor cashpoint provision or no cashpoints at all. There are 130 postcode districts with a combined population of 115,741 that do not have a single cashpoint. Of these, 36 areas do not have a Post Office, leaving residents in ‘cash deserts.’ A further 129 communities have just one ATM - 65% of which charge a fee for withdrawals.
Earlier this year, under government pressure, ATM network Link set up a £1 million fund from which cash-starved communities can draw in order to install a free cash machine. Within a month, it had fielded more than 100 requests.
Industry-owned Link has promised to ensure that every high street in the country will have free access to a cash machine. But, Which? says that cashpoints closed at a rate of 578 a month in the first half of the year.
The consumer group blames the closures on Link's decision two years ago to begin a phased reduction in interchange fees paid by banks.
Which? is calling on the Payment Systems Regulator to take control of the interchange fees to prevent or slow closures. In addition, in the run-up to the general election, it is asking political parties to "set out a pro-consumer agenda" and "guarantee access to cash for as long as it is needed through legislation".
Gareth Shaw, head, money, Which?, says: "The countless communities across the UK with shockingly low cash machine provision show that measures intended to guarantee access to cash simply don’t work - and point to mismanagement of the broken cash landscape that is leaving many people struggling.
“These communities have found themselves presented with a confusing array of schemes from regulators and the industry claiming to fix the problem. Only intervention from the next government to properly protect cash for as long as it is needed can help the many people struggling for vital cash access.”