Retailers in pledge to fight 'unfair' ATM transaction charges

Free-to-use cash machines are disappearing at a rapid rate, according to a study by Which?
Gary McDonald Business Editor

RETAIL bosses in the north have vowed to fight plans for hole-in-the-wall operators to charge customers for withdrawing their own cash.

Nearly 1,700 free-to-use cash machines have disappeared across the UK in the first three months of the year and are now costing for every transaction, according to a study by consumer lobby group Which?

It said the rate of ATM machines being converted to charge fees is on the increase, with the bulk of the machines affected being operated by Cardtronics, the UK's biggest cash-point operator.

And it coincides with dozens of bank branch closures in rural towns and villages impacting on people's general access to cash.

Retail NI says it is alarmed at the trend and is vowing to challenge operators who move from the 'free-to-withdraw' method to charging.

The lobby group's chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “We are completely opposed to the imposition of these transaction charges, which is blatantly unfair to independent retailers and their customers.”

He said the charges could not have come at a worse time for retailers, who are facing a perfect storm of problems in relation to ATMs.

“Our members are facing a relentless campaign of robberies resulting in devastation to their businesses, which in turn are leading to rising insurance premiums. Also, due to no government at Stormont, the rural ATM rate relief has also been lost. Now we have the 95p transaction cost.

“All of this will result in our members having no choice but to remove ATMs from their stores, which will have a huge impact on rural communities who rely on one to withdraw cash. The most vulnerable in society will be most affected by this.”

Mr Roberts added: “It is completely unacceptable for any consumer to have to pay to withdraw their own cash. This 95p transaction charge will result in less footfall and trade for our members as consumers will go elsewhere to access cash.

“Retail NI will be fighting this unfair transaction charge to ensure independent retailers and consumer get a fair deal.”

A row broke out last year over Link's proposals for reducing interchange fees - the fee card issuers pay ATM operators - leading to concerns more free-to-use cash machines will disappear.

Link has put in place specific arrangements to protect free-to-use ATMs more than one kilometre away from their next nearest free-to-use ATM.

A spokeswoman for Cardtronics said: "We have been forced into charging a fee for cash withdrawals on some of our machines where Link's cuts have left us with no choice.

"The decision on whether to introduce a fee is taken on a case-by-case basis and reflects the economic viability of the individual machine.

"We only ever charge a fee when there is no other option apart from removing the machine altogether."

According to Link there are more than 50,000 free-to-use ATMs across the UK, 10,000 more than in 2009, and currently 12,700 pay-to-use cash machines, down from over 23,000 in 2009.

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