ATM chief suggests cash machines will only remain in areas where cash isn't in decline

Sophie Barnes
The volume of cash withdrawals from ATMs declined year-on-year across the UK in early 2019, according to a Link report published today. - PA

Residents in areas of the country where cash is no longer king may find themselves without a cash machine, as an ATM chief suggested the machines will only be protected in areas where the use of cash is not in decline.

John Howells, chief executive of cash machine network Link, pledged to protect cash machines in areas where cash is still being used regularly.

This has left a question mark over the future of cash machines in areas where debit cards and other payment methods are becoming more popular than cash.

The volume of cash withdrawals from ATMs declined year-on-year across the UK in early 2019, according to a Link report published today.

The strongest declines were in London followed by parts of southern England and the weakest were in the north east of England followed by Northern Ireland.

In the first four months of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018 there was a decline in Link cash withdrawals of 8.7% in London - from 93.1m in 2018 to 85m in 2019, 7.9% in the South East - from 66.6m to 61.3m and 7.7% in the South West - 41.2m to 38m.

London has seen a particularly large take-up of contactless card payments on public transport services in recent years.

In the North East, withdrawals fell by 3.7% - from 26.8m to 25.8m and in Northern Ireland they decreased by 4.6% - 22.3m to 21.3m.

In Scotland, withdrawals were down by 5.4% - from 61.8m to 58.4m and in Wales they fell by 5% - from 26.8m to 25.5m.

Mr Howells said: "These regional variations are important, and Link will ensure that areas which are not moving away from cash as quickly as others still have their cash access protected.

"What is clear is that the sharp drop in cash usage means that it is vital now to reform how cash is distributed to maintain broad, free access for all consumers.

"Link is determined to deliver this with the support of industry and regulators."

He added: “"The UK continues to have an excellent ATM network with broad, geographical coverage. However, as the Access to Cash Review saw in Sweden, an uncoordinated approach to the cash infrastructure led to the country sleepwalking into a cashless society. We must begin to plan now so no one is left behind."

There has also been a decline in balance inquiries made using ATMs in recent years, as many people now use banking apps to check how much money is in their accounts.

Balance inquiries have fallen by 18% from 2016 to 2019, Link said.

But Link said the value of money being withdrawn is declining more slowly - perhaps because when people are using ATMs they are taking more money out as they may not visit them again for a while.

Concerns have been raised about the continued availability of free access to cash amid cash machine and bank branch closures.

Boris Johnson has pledged to keep cash machines open by abolishing business rates on free to use cash machines in town centres.

Recent figures from UK Finance show around 1.9 million people used cash for their day-to-day transactions in 2018, but 5.4 million people used cash rarely or not at all.

The finance trade association has predicted that by 2028 just 9% of all payments will be made by cash.

Link also said it must be expected that at some point the decline of cash usage will slow - leaving a "core" of cash users who will never give up cash or are only likely to do so over a much longer period.