Thousands of cash machines were put out of action during the first national lockdowns between March and May last year, with virtually none being replaced, according to the consumer group Which?.
Its study used cash machine data from Link, the UK’s largest cash machine network, and found 8,000 ATMs had disappeared in the past 18 months – a drop of 13 per cent – with the vast majority going during the first lockdown.
Separately, analysts found that from the first national lockdown in March 2020 until the end of restrictions in July 2021 there were 801 bank branch closures, with another 103 set to close their doors by the end of the year.
The ATM analysis from Which? also found large variations in the proportion of cash machines that charged for withdrawals across the UK. Researchers found the number of cash machines charging users to get their money varied according to region.
For example, in the West Midlands 28 per cent of machines charged users, compared with 19 per cent in the South East.
It followed a survey by the group that found 57 per cent of people had experienced one or more issues with using cash machines or finding a high street bank.
Barclays bank in High Street, Ripley, which closed down in June 2019
Over the last 12 months, one in four had a problem with a cashpoint issue, including 17 per cent who said the ATM they used had run out of cash or had not been working when needed.
A further one in eight said a cashpoint they had used regularly had been removed or had introduced charges.
Bank branch issues affected 43 per cent of those surveyed, including closures or reduced opening hours.
Several high street banks had announced closures in the past year across the country, with bosses pointing to huge increases in online transactions and services.
But consumer groups feared that older households or those without internet access would struggle with their finances without access to in-person support.
Which? said the Government must do more to protect consumers reliant on cash and most at risk from closures, and asked when new rules proposed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to ensure ATMs were available locally would become law.
Gareth Shaw, Which? head of money, said: “These stark figures show the extent of the damage caused by the pandemic to the already fragile cash system, and demonstrate the consequences that this is having on consumers who are trying to withdraw cash.
“While many people can now bank digitally, millions of people are not yet ready or able to do so. It is consumers who are looking to withdraw and spend cash in nearby shops or the high street who will be hardest hit if they are left without a way to access it locally.
“This should serve as a wake-up call to the Government and the FCA. The cash system is continuing to crumble and legislation on safeguarding access to cash must be introduced swiftly.”
A Treasury spokesman said: “We’ve committed to legislate to protect access to cash across the UK and we’re currently consulting on proposals for new laws to make sure people only need to travel a reasonable distance to pay in or take out cash.”
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