Source: HM TREASURY
More than a million people stand to benefit from an initiative to place 600 non-charging ATM cash machines in low-income areas throughout the UK.
The million plus figure was revealed today by Ed Balls, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and John McFall, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee and chair of the ATM Working Group.
They said "excellent progress" has been made in just six months since the working group, which was set up to examine the issue, struck a deal with banks and cash machine operators to increase free access to cash.
It was announced that of the target 600 new free cash machines, sites for 471 cash machines have already been found, with 127 free cash machines already installed and issuing cash to the public, and a further 344 locations contracted to have a free cash machine in operation, most of them by the end of this year.
Ed Balls said: "The free cash machines already in use are enabling over 260,000 residents in low-income areas to access cash more easily, with a further 822,000 standing to benefit from the confirmed free cash machines still to come on stream.
"More than one million people in low income areas therefore will soon be benefiting regularly from not having to pay ATM charges and they will no longer have to travel to non-charging machines outside their own neighbourhood to withdraw cash."
He added: "Opening bank accounts and having access to financial information and products enables people to manage their finances better. These new free cash machines will help individuals on low incomes to access financial services as easily and cheaply as possible. I am particularly pleased that local re-generation committees and financial inclusion groups have been involved in identifying suitable cash machine sites, and I hope this will continue. Today John McFall, MP and I are also writing to all MP's thanking them for their support with this important initiative and urging them to continue to identify sites for the remaining 129 free cash machines."
John McFall said: "This is a huge step forward in our campaign for financial inclusion. I'm encouraged by this momenmentum and hope it continues. The parties involved deserve congratulations for their constructive and innovative work, which means a hugely increased access to free cash machines for people in low-income areas, which is vital for economic activity in those areas."
As an incentive for cash machine operators to set up and maintain cash machines free-of-charge, banks and building societies agreed to pay a 'financial inclusion premium'. This scheme, which will compensate cash machine operators for the expected lower cash machine-use in these areas, began on 1 March 2007 and will be funded through the transaction fee banks and building societies are charged when their customers use other cash machines.
LINK Director Edwin Latter said: "Over the past months LINK's member banks, building societies and independent operators have been turning commitments we made last December into reality. Our work with HM Treasury, members of Parliament and consumer groups to identify the areas where a free cash machine will make the most difference has led to multiple new cash machines being installed and benefiting the local community."
For all cash machines that do charge users, operators are continuing work on signage to make it absolutely clear that a charge will be applied when withdrawing cash, so customers can see at a glance whether a machine is free or charging.