The cost of cash: Banks save hundreds of millions while consumers are left footing the bill just to access cash

The UK’s major banks have made hundreds of millions of pounds from cash machine cuts and bank branch closures in the last two years, while fees paid by consumers to access their own cash have soared, new research from Which? reveals.

New figures obtained by the consumer champion show the amount paid by consumers to withdraw cash jumped by £29m to £104m last year – as many free machines vanished or were converted to charge fees.  

In contrast, this seismic shift in the cashpoint network has saved the banks £120m since January 2018, according to the new figures from Link, which runs the UK’s largest cashpoint network. 

More than 8,700 free ATMs have closed since changes to how the Link cashpoint network is funded were pushed through with no regulatory oversight in January 2018, following lobbying by the banks.

Between 2018 and 2019 the percentage of fee-charging machines jumped by 37 per cent (from 11,120 to 15,277) and they now comprise a quarter (25%) of the entire network of 60,291 machines  – leaving countless communities having to pay up to £2 just to withdraw their money.

These changes have seen the number of times people have had to pay to withdraw cash increase from 46m in 2018 to 73m in 2019 – a rise of 59 per cent in a single year.

The banks are also saving vast sums through branch closures – with 1,203 having closed since January 2018 alone. These ongoing closures have drastically reduced people’s ability to access free withdrawals across the UK.

Which? first raised the alarm in December 2017 that incoming cuts to the way cashpoints are funded would lead to a rapid reduction in access to free withdrawals across the country. 

And two years on these new figures show the sheer mismanagement of the cash landscape, which is seeing people cut off from cash – or forced to pay significant fees to access it.

Which? previously revealed that deprived areas are losing free cash machines at a much faster rate than affluent ones across the UK – hitting those who can afford it the least.

Digital banking and payments have brought many benefits to consumers in the UK, but it’s crucial that the transition is better managed to ensure all those still reliant on cash aren’t forced to pay just to access it.  

Which? is calling on the government to intervene with legislation that protects free access to cash for as long as it is needed.