UK BANKING INDUSTRY, CONSUMER GROUPS AND MPs UNITE TO ROLL OUT MORE FREE CASH MACHINES
13 December 2006
Banks, building societies, ATM operators and consumer groups agree plans:
- to widen the free cash machine network
- to spread best practice on transparency at charging machines
The LINK Scheme yesterday agreed changes to its rules that will provide incentives to ATM operators to deploy free cash machines in target communities without free machines.
Potential ATM landlords, such as convenience stores, public authorities and community centres, are being invited by LINK and its members to help pinpoint new locations for free cash machines to be installed by working with ATM deployers or submitting suggestions through the LINK website.
This agreement represents the culmination of six months of work in an ATM Working Group(1) chaired by Treasury Committee chairman John McFall MP and established by former Treasury Minister Ivan Lewis MP. Combining LINK and government data, the Working Group found that the large majority of communities in which local and free-of-charge access to cash was likely to be most important were well served by free machines.(2) However, a small but significant number of such communities had either only charging machines or no machines at all. The Working Group estimated that around 600 new free machines would address the need for free-of-charge cash access in these areas.
Banks and building societies have agreed to offer extra money to ATM operators who deploy machines in these important communities, recognising that such machines have a greater social value than a free machine sitting alongside others in a busy high street. The agreement uses LINK’s “interchange” pricing arrangements to support public policy financial inclusion objectives and to maximise the consumer benefit from the UK’s large free ATM network. Treasury Committee Chairman John McFall today welcomed this as “the first example of such an innovative approach anywhere in the world.”
This change comes alongside commitments from many individual LINK Members – including Bank of Ireland, Bank Machine, The Co-operative Bank, HBOS, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sainsbury’s Bank, Tesco Personal Finance and TRM – to install new machines in the target areas.
Edwin Latter, LINK Scheme Director said: “Every one of LINK’s 49 Member banks, building societies and independent operators is contributing to this initiative. We are also hugely grateful for the time and advice given by the Citizens Advice Bureau, National Consumer Council and Which? LINK Members have committed several hundred new free machines, and around 200 sites have already been found in the target areas. A free cash machine can make a massive difference to a local area because money withdrawn is usually spent in the area, sustaining local business and local economies.”
“The industry is making a big investment in expanding free-of-charge access to cash. But we can’t achieve the success the public wants without help from local authorities and local community leaders in finding sites, and the constructive engagement of local authorities in the planning permission process.”
“The Working Group heard too many examples of new free machines being rejected because of traffic congestion, parking concerns, pavement crowding, the residential nature of an area or "undue noise". But local authorities need to build access to cash into their plans as full financial inclusion can’t be achieved if vulnerable communities do not have free-of-charge access to cash.”
“Authorities in England and Wales can also increase the chances of success by looking imaginatively at rate relief for new free ATMs in the target areas. Scotland and Northern Ireland already offer some relief. The driver for these new machines is public policy financial inclusion objectives, and everyone loses, including the taxman, if taxation prevents a machine going in.”
Citizens Advice and the National Consumer Council (NCC) offered to support planning applications where these would benefit local communities.
Francesa Hopwood-Road of Citizens Advice said: “This report is very good news. Not having free access to money hits the poorest people the hardest, forcing them to travel miles to the nearest free machine or paying to get at their money. LINK and other ATM providers such as the high street banks have made very positive steps forward and we will continue working with them and local authorities to secure further sites. The faster the planning process can be, the better for the thousands of people who will benefit."
Nicola O’Reilly, Senior Policy Advocate at the NCC said: “The National Consumer Council will support planning applications to ensure that all of the 600 new ATMs that have been pledged for financially excluded areas can be deployed, increasing free access to cash for all consumers, including those on low incomes. It is essential that ATM providers and Local Authorities work together to find suitable sites for ATMs as part of tackling financial exclusion and promoting sustainable communities."
The Working Group report lists the target areas(3) and calls on local authorities, MPs and other local community leaders to help find suitable sites for free machines. It also lists banks and other ATM operators interested in deploying the machines, and many examples where MPs, Housing Associations, regeneration groups, local authorities, Citizens Advice Bureau, credit unions, sub-postmasters, small businesses and others have already successfully worked with banks to find sites for new machines.”
Others who can help are invited to contact the banks and ATM operators looking to deploy machines, or to submit suggestions through the LINK website at:
Guidance on what might make a site suitable can also be found on the LINK website.(4)
LINK Scheme Members also agreed unanimously to a set of enhanced rules for signs at charging ATMs. All charging ATMs will now move towards a standardised external sign in prominent and large font on a standard white or yellow background. Signs on the screen of the ATM will also be enhanced.
Edwin Latter said, “The clarity of up-front signs has improved a lot over the past two years, and some important lessons have been learnt on what type of signs work well. The best practice established by charging operators themselves will now be spread across every charging cash machine in the UK.”
(1) The full report of the Working Group may be found at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/documents/financial_services/financial_inclusion/financial_inclusion_atmworkinggroup.cfm
(2) 96% of cash withdrawals in the UK were made free of charge in 2005. At end-November 2006, there were over 60,000 cash machines in the UK, 33,960 of which were free-to-use and 26,289 pay-to-use.
(3) The target areas were agreed in consultation with consumer groups, representatives of the Treasury Committee and with the assistance of HM Treasury staff. The focus is on lower-income areas more than 1km from the nearest free machine. The full list of areas may be found in the Working Group report and on the LINK website.
(4) In finding an ideal location for a new free ATM the following factors are important:
- Footfall – the number of people passing the site
- Visibility – would the cash machine be easily seen by passers-by?
- Demand for cash – are there places nearby such as local shops, markets and pubs where people might need to use cash?
- Access – would there be a need to use the ATM out of hours, for example, at the evening or weekend?
- Security – is the area unthreatening and well lit, would you be comfortable withdrawing cash?
LINK is the operator of the UK cash machine network, connecting almost every cash machine – free and charging – in the UK. The LINK ATM Scheme brings together the banks, building societies and other institutions that issue the 105 million cards enabled for use in the LINK Network, and the operators of the 60,000 UK ATMs that make up that Network.
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