Hand taking out cash from machine (British Pounds)

Major UK banks join forces to ensure future access to cash

Image credit: Gvision - Dreamstime

The UK’s largest banks have entered into an agreement to share their services to ensure that smaller communities can maintain their access to cash.

While cash payments were already declining year-on-year before the pandemic hit, Covid-19 accelerated the trend, with current usage 35 per cent below pre-Covid levels. One study from Merchant Machine found a 10 per cent decrease in the number of ATMs available to UK cardholders in 2020 alone.

The new deal will see shared banking hubs being rolled out alongside free ATMs, enhanced Post Office services, and access to cashback without purchases.

The collaboration was achieved through the Access to Cash Action Group which has signed up all the major retail banks alongside Age UK, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and others.

With millions of people across the UK still reliant on cash, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was urged last year to protect people’s access to it as it becomes increasingly uneconomical to support those services.

Under the new model, any community that faces the closure of a core cash service, such as a bank branch or ATM, will have its needs independently assessed by LINK, the largest interbank network which operates cash machines.

LINK will then determine whether a new solution should be provided to meet that community’s cash needs. Communities will also be able to request a review of their community’s needs from the summer of 2022.

These new shared services will complement other industry initiatives to support cash and banking, such as ‘cashback without purchase’ – being rolled out to 2,000 retailers by the end of 2021, mobile branches and pop-up services, as well as services for people who need to make payments in their own homes.

Natalie Ceeney, Chair of the Community Access to Cash Pilots said: “I’m delighted that the industry is today committing to ensuring that the cash needs of consumers and small businesses up and down the UK will continue to be met.

“We know that demand for cash is declining, but we also know that it continues to play a vital part in the lives of at least five million people in the UK – including some of the most vulnerable in society.

“The community pilots have shown that there are many different ways to meet people’s cash needs. Informed by this experience, I’m confident that the new plan will lay the foundations for a positive future for cash access across the UK.”

Caroline Abrahams, from Age UK, said: “This is arguably the most promising development we’ve yet seen in ensuring that older people can continue to access cash, which so many of them rely on as an essential part of their everyday lives.

“It’s been great to be part of the Cash Action Group and we look forward to seeing the principles agreed by the Group translate into action across the country, and really starting to make a positive difference for many older people.”

John Howells, chief executive of LINK, said: “Our relationship with cash is changing but the UK is not ready to be a cashless society, and free access to cash remains vital for many consumers and communities.”

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