It is 50 years since the first cash machine opened in the UK (it’s now painted gold to commemorate this). But it seems it will take far less than 50 years for free cash machines to disappear from our high streets.
At the start of this year there were 52,000 free cash machines. According to Which?, 1,700 machines started charging for withdrawals in the first three months of this year. Most of these machines, says the BBC, are run by Cardtronics. The other major free cash machine network is NoteMachine which has 7,000 cash machines and is considering bringing in fees at more than half of these. Both companies blame a cut in the fee they get from banks when withdrawals are made in their move away from free machines. Link, which oversees ATMs is cutting the rate paid to cash machine companies (called the interchange rate) from 25p to 20p in steps over four years. But it’s keeping the rate at 25p for free to use machines which are 1km or more from the next machine.
All this doesn’t matter at all to you if you live in an area rich with bank branches all with free ATMs. But if you don’t, then it’s really bad news. Where I live – a small, tourist-rich town – there are no longer any banks or external cash machines. There’s one free machine in the Nationwide but it doesn’t open on Sundays. There’s a free ATM at the garage 10-15 minutes’ walk away from the centre of town. It’s often run out of money.
Of course you could just use your debit or credit card to pay for things. Many do, as since 2017 debit cards have overtaken cash as the most common way to pay for everything. But that’s not the answer for everyone. The Bank of England says that 2.2 million Britons rely solely on cash. If you are on a strict budget then it’s just easier to rely on cash. I did go ‘cashless’ for a few days last month when I couldn’t be bothered to seek out an ATM. But it’s so easy just to flash your card at a machine without thinking about it. I can’t remember how much I spent (I was using my credit card to earn reward points) and won’t find out until I get my statement. If I’d been handing over notes and coins then I’d know how much I had spent. I will miss free cash machines if they disappear entirely: but I think that’s the way things are going.