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Government orders banks to run accessible free cash machines for all

The Treasury is to require banks and building societies to provide access to free-to-use cash machines within a “reasonable distance” of every home in the UK.

About 7,200 cash dispensers have been closed during the lockdown, out of a total of 60,000. Cash usage has fallen by about 90% in some areas.

It is not known exactly what is considered to be a “reasonable” distance, but it could be defined as about three miles.

British banks could be made to follow the Swedish model of protecting access to cash under new laws designed to ensure the elderly and vulnerable are not cut out of payments altogether. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, promised in his budget on March 11 to pass laws so that everyone who needed cash could get it.

Some of those closed between April and June were too close to other cash machines, making social distancing impossible, but many were in premises that have been shut. Only 30% are working again, according to network operator Link.

The lack of a local cash machine is especially problematic for older people, many of whom prefer using cash to cards.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at the Which? consumer champion, said: “Millions of people have had no choice but to rely on cash during lockdown. It is vital that banks do all they can to ensure customers have access to the services they need and that people’s ability to pay for goods and services with cash is not permanently lost.”

Johnny Hammond, 82, lives in Lulworth on the Dorset coast, and drives up a hill on his mobility scooter to a post office in a village three miles away to withdraw his state pension in cash. “It looks to me that they want to do away with cash altogether so they can keep a check on your money at all times,” he said. “It’s all wrong.”

The increase in the contactless transaction limit from £30 to £45 in April has encouraged more spending on debit cards, and many retailers have refused to accept cash during lockdown.

John Howells, chief executive of Link, said the network would make sure that “all high streets, large and small, will continue to have free access to cash”.

The Treasury said: “We’re co-ordinating work across government, regulators and industry so we can protect access [to cash] for everyone who needs it, and have committed to bring forward legislation. This work includes investing over £2bn in the Post Office since 2010, giving people local access to everyday banking services.”

Source:  The Sunday Times 12th July 20