Big banks putting UK’s free-to-use ATM network at risk, warns peer

The public should be told whether the big banks are refusing to support a free-to-use cash machine network, according to the politician who led the campaign a decade ago to maintain access to ATMs around the UK.

Proposals to change the way the Link network operates have prompted fears that up to 10,000 of the 55,000 free-to-use ATMs could either close or start charging.

John McFall, who chaired the Treasury select committee for nine years until 2013, has now waded into the debate by urging the network to publish the responses to a consultation on its plan to cut the interchange fee that card providers pay to machine operators every time a customer withdraws cash. It would fall from 25p to 20p under the plan.

“The public has a right to know where each of the major banks stands on these proposals and whether they are reneging on their commitment to support a widespread network of free-to-use ATMs,” said Lord McFall, adding that the network was taking a “leap in the dark” as it did not know what the impact might be.

“Keeping their responses secret will do nothing for the trust of the public, which they are committed to re-establishing. It is unacceptable that this consultation is dominated by the views of the major banks and excludes the public and consumer groups which are not members of the Link consumer council.”

The consumer council was set up in 2006 and counts an MP, charities, banks and ATM providers among its members. Link has 30 members ranging from high street banks and building societies to the private companies which install machines around the UK.

McFall conducted an inquiry into cash machines in 2005, while chair of the select committee, and later chaired a working party that devised a framework to keep ATMs free in low-income areas.

He said the ATM network was becoming increasingly important in the light of branch closures. RBS announced plans on Friday to close 259 branches, a quarter of its network.

Link, said the responses to the consultation – which closed last week – contained “commercially confidential inputs” and would remain confidential.

“Link’s policy remains to maintain extensive free ATM coverage. That is not changing. Providing free ATMs across the country, particularly in areas where other mechanisms, such as branches, are not available, remains key to Link’s objectives and continues to be successfully achieved,” John Howells, the chief executive of Link, said in a statement.

The current system, he said, was leading to ATMs clustering in busy locations, whilst leaving more remote areas exposed to the risk of closure.

He told Mail Online over the weekend that cash machines would disappear from high streets altogether in 10 years, with retailers becoming more important in dispensing cash from their tills.