Millions of people who rely on cash machines increasingly face being charged to access their own money, an investigation by consumer group Which? has warned.
According to its research, the most deprived areas are at the greatest risk of losing free-to-use cash points than in affluent ones.
Wealth and deprivation in the study was based on the indices of multiple deprivation, which considers factors such as income, education, crime, housing and services.
Since January 2018, just shy of 8,700 free-to-use cash machines in the UK have closed or started charging fees. Of the ATMs that closed, 223 were in the wealthiest areas, which equates to around 3.9 percent of the local cash machine network.
The news comes as network operator NoteMachine announced plans to start charging fees on 1,500 free-to-use machines in poorer areas.
The most deprived areas not only lost more machines – 979 – but also lost a higher proportion of their network, with 5.7 percent of machines closing. Poorer neighbourhoods face losing 15 percent of their free cash machines if NoteMachine carries out its plan to start charging fees.
In some areas, paying to access your own cash is becoming the norm. Almost half of cash machines in Great Yarmouth now charge a fee, far above the national average of 20 percent. The proportion of fee-charging machines has also shot up in Vauxhall in London, Birmingham Hodge Hill and in Nuneaton.
Campaigners want chancellor Sajid Javid to implement a cash guarantee for those who need it.
In August, Link, which oversees the UK’s cash machine network, announced that funding will be made available to “protect free access to cash for every high street in the UK”.
Link’s pledge means that should a high street be threatened with the loss of its last cash machine, it will step in to ensure that a free-to-use ATM is made available and paid for with funding from all the UK’s main banks and building societies if there is no nearby Post Office counter to serve that community.
In a statement, Link said: "Which?’s report rightly points out that it is the less well-off and more remote parts of the country that are at growing risk of losing free cash access.
"No consumer should be forced to use a charging machine to access their cash. Whilst there are still 47,802 free-to-use ATMs across the UK, we are beginning to work with communities to re-introduce free ATMs in areas with poor cash access. We are keen to hear from more and to make sure no one is left behind."
In March this year, the Access to Cash Review, led by former chief financial ombudsman Natalie Ceeney, warned that the disappearance of cash machines and limited acceptance of cash by retailers could harm vulnerable communities.
The Treasury and NoteMachine have both been contacted for comment.