Hundreds of communities left in 'cash deserts' as Which? urges banknote guarantee

14 November 2019, 08:59

File photo: 259 communities across the UK have poor cashpoint provision or no cashpoints at all
File photo: 259 communities across the UK have poor cashpoint provision or no cashpoints at all. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Hundreds of communities are being left in “cash deserts,” with 130 postcode districts left without a single cash point.

Consumer group Which? is urging the next government to introduce a guarantee protecting people's ability to continue using banknotes as thousands of people still struggle to access cash.

It said the next government must intervene to introduce legislation that guarantees consumers can continue to access and pay with cash for as long as it is needed.

The group’s analysis of data from ATM network Link indicates 259 communities across the UK have poor cashpoint provision or no cashpoints at all.

130 postcode districts with a combined population of more than 115,000 do not have a single cashpoint.

Of these, 36 areas with a combined population of more than 19,000 do not have a post office, leaving residents in "cash deserts", the group said.

A further 129 communities have just one ATM - around two thirds of which charge a fee for withdrawals.

Which? said postcode district PE32 in Peterborough was the most populated area (15,294) without a single cashpoint in its research.

This is followed by DL11 in Darlington (5,308), NE43 in Newcastle (4,532) and NR24 in Norwich (4,462).

Which? released the analysis to coincide with its consumer agenda for government, calling on all political parties to set out a "pro-consumer agenda with commitments that deliver positive, tangible improvements for individuals across the UK".

The agenda includes calls for the next government to guarantee access to cash for as long as it is needed through legislation.

Which? first raised concerns about the risk of a wave of cashpoint closures in December 2017 after Link announced changes to the way its network was funded.

The consumer group also found that cashpoints closed at a rate of 578 machines a month in the first half of 2019.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: "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."

Link recently launched a "request an ATM" service so communities with a lack of nearby cash access can apply directly for a cashpoint.

Link chief executive John Howells said: "We are concerned that many communities are struggling to access cash and are determined to protect the national ATM network.

"Our data shows ATM usage is declining quickly. In fact, it's down more than 10 per cent year-on-year.

"Link can hold the system together in the short term through initiatives like the Community Access to Cash Delivery Fund, but we need a long-term commitment to protect cash access.

"We want to hear from communities that think they have an issue. Where there is a problem, Link will take action.

"We will specifically investigate the areas raised by Which? as part of this work."