Payments regulator urged to prevent ‘ATM deserts’ in parts of UK

Technology

The UK payments regulator is being urged to intervene in the row over changes to the Link network that has led to fears that parts of the UK could become “ATM deserts”.

Nicky Morgan, the Conservative MP and chair of the Treasury select committee, has told the Payment System Regulator (PSR) that it is responsible for ensuring that the needs of consumers are not jeopardised by the proposals to cut the fee that card issuers pay to machine operators when customers use their cards.

She has also warned the members of the Link network – the banks, building societies and independent suppliers of machines – that they would be forced to appear before MPs if the committee “considers there to be a risk of unacceptable consumer detriment”.

Link has proposed a 5p cut, down to 20p, in the so-called interchange fee that ATM providers receive, via incremental steps over the next four years. The move has led to warnings that up to 10,000 free-to-use cash machines – out of 55,0000 – could be at risk.

Morgan said: “The relevant parties – Link, the banks, and the ATM deployers – must engage constructively in the consultation. If they don’t, or if consumer access to cash is at risk, the PSR should not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

“As bank closures increase, so too does the reliance on free-to-use ATMs. The ability of consumers to access cash must not suffer.”

Sir Mark Boleat, chairman of Link, said decisions were being made by the independent members of the board – not the industry representatives – and that the geographic spread of ATMs should not change.

“The Link board’s intention is to set the level of interchange at a level that will retain an extensive network of free ATMs for consumers, particularly in rural and deprived areas, whilst avoiding the growth in ATM numbers that has occurred over recent years,” he said.

The PSR said it was monitoring the situation. “Link’s consultation on its proposals has now closed and we have been clear that we expect it to consider the impact on consumers when forming its decision.

“If we consider that any decision Link makes is not in the interests of consumers, and is therefore inconsistent with our statutory objectives, we will take regulatory action as necessary.”

 

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