Jeremy Hunt must act “decisively” in this week’s Autumn Statement by allocating more money to protect access to cash, senior MPs and businesses have urged.
The cost of free-to-use ATMs is covered by a fee paid by banks and building societies but this has not risen with inflation, sparking widespread closures and leaving tens of thousands at risk.
MPs from across four political parties have now joined forces with leading business associations and Britain’s two largest ATM providers to urge Mr Hunt to save the 37,000 cash machines at risk of closure or conversion and ensure they remain free to use.
Signatories include Sir Peter Bottomley, the veteran Tory backbencher who as Britain’s longest-serving MP is the Father of the House, Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a Labour peer.
It is also supported by six members of the SNP, including members of its Westminster frontbench team.
Business backing comes from the Association of Convenience Stores, the Petrol Retailers Association and ATM operators NCR Atleos and NoteMachine.
In a letter to Mr Hunt, the group said: “In your upcoming Autumn Statement, decisive action on the provision of services is needed to ensure the free-to-use ATM network is maintained in the long term, so that it remains available to the millions of people who rely on cash.
“While the Treasury’s cash access policy statement earlier this year kicked off the process, the job to protect cash is far from finished. Much more is needed from the Government and the regulator to ensure the UK’s free cash network is adequately funded and protected.”
Access to cash
A total of 14,400 free-to-use ATM machines have been lost across the UK since 2018 amid concern about the long-term survival of paper notes and coins, and the impact of digital payments on the most vulnerable in society.
Sir Peter, a Conservative MP since his election in 1975, told The Telegraph: “Modern money is fine for modern people. Many older people, many isolated people, are used to using cash, they want to go on using cash, they should be able to go on having access to cash, and they should be able to spend money without penalties. This needs to be protected.”
Ministers announced in August that banks will be forced to provide customers with free access to cash within three miles of their home, while new laws are also being brought forward that will preserve paper money and protect deposit and withdrawal services.
Vital payment method
But Steve Makaritis, the chief executive of NoteMachine, warned more had to be done to avoid “severely reducing access to a vital payment method” for millions of people.
“The Government can, and should, use this Autumn Statement to direct the FCA to act decisively, preserving free access to cash and protecting consumers and businesses,” Mr Makaritis said.
Earlier this year, The Telegraph revealed that NatWest had granted itself “sweeping new powers” to limit cash withdrawals and deposits, fuelling warnings of a drift towards a cashless society.
A Treasury spokesman said: “We know cash remains king for many, which is why we have protected access to cash in law – legislating to protect access to cash withdrawal and deposit facilities for people and businesses.
“This will support businesses to continue accepting cash by ensuring they have reasonable access to facilities to deposit their cash.”