Link says it is 'committed to maintaining geographical coverage of free ATMs'

"ATM deserts" could be created
"ATM deserts" could be created
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ATM network Link has moved to offer assurances following concerns over the future availability of free-to-use cash machines.

Free-to-use ATMs which are a kilometre or more from the next nearest non-charging cash machine will be protected, as part of a financial inclusion programme, it has said.

The move follows a row over the funding of cash machines - prompting fears that "ATM deserts" could be created, with people struggling to find places where they can access physical money without being charged.

The row concerns interchange fees - which fund the free-to-use ATM network. These interchange fees are paid by card issuers such as banks and building societies to ATM operators.

Consultation plans previously outlined by Link include a reduction in interchange rates over the next four years, from around 25p to 20p per withdrawal.

Link's independent board said on Thursday that it will protect all free-to-use ATMs which are a kilometre or more from the next nearest free-to-use ATM.

It said this will happen regardless of any wider funding changes.

These ATMs will still be subject to normal contractual and business pressures but by protecting interchange fees at these sites these ATMs should not need to be removed as a result of a more general reduction in interchange rates, it said.

A statement from Link said: "Link's independent board is guided in everything it does by its public interest remit and Link is resolutely committed to protecting cash access and maintaining the geographical coverage of free-to-use ATMs.

"This is vital given the central role cash will continue to play in the lives of many people in the UK, even if overall cash usage declines."

The consultation on future interchange rates ended on November 30 and a final decision is due to be announced before the end of January.

Consumer group Which? and the Treasury Committee have previously expressed concerns over the potential impact of the proposals on the accessibility of free-to-use ATMs.

The Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) has said it is monitoring the situation closely.

Trade body the ATM Industry Association has warned that "ATM deserts" could be created.

Link has previously said the number of cash machines in the UK is currently at near-record levels, with more than 70,000 ATMs across the country, around 80% of which are free for consumers.