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Finance watchdog to step in to protect access to cash

The Financial Conduct Authority will now make the final call on whether free-to-use ATMs are closed or converted as figures reveal 50 per cent of Brits haven’t used cash since lockdown

Banks, building societies and credit unions must now keep finance watchdog The Financial Conduct Authority informed of any plans to shutter free-to-use ATMs, in a bid to protect the millions of people who still rely on cash.

In updated guidance that will apply from next Monday, the FCA will expect firms to provide a clear summary of their analysis of customers’ needs, the impact of any closure and any possible alternatives before axing a cash machine.

The FCA will then monitor whether customers are being treated fairly before a final decision is made.

If plans to close an ATM do go ahead, firms will then be required to inform customers no less than 12 weeks before the machine closes as well as telling them of alternative ways to access their cash and giving them time to change banking provider if they feel it necessary to do so.

Sheldon Mills, the FCA’s interim executive director of strategy and competition, said: “Although closures or conversions are decisions for firms to take, it is important they implement these decisions in ways that are fair to their customers.

“Even during the pandemic, cash remains essential to many consumers. The publication of this guidance sets out clearly our expectations on firms and will ensure that firms make it a priority that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

The Access to Cash Review, carried out in 2018, warned that eight million people, many of them vulnerable, still rely on cash despite society turning ever more cashless.

That trend has continued during the pandemic, despite significant evidence that Covid-19 is unlikely to be passed on through the use of coins and notes.

According to research released by LINK, the UK’s largest cash machine network, cash withdrawals slumped in the height of lockdown in early April with 9,000 ATMs – including 3,500 pay-to-use machines – disconnected in early April with £1bn taken out in 12 million withdrawals every week.

These figures were down 57 per cent on the same period in 2019 but by the end of July cash withdrawals were down 30 per cent with £1.5bn taken out every week in 20 million withdrawals.

But a survey released today by Ubamarket showed that half of Brits haven’t used cash at all since the start of lockdown, relying exclusively on card and contactless payments instead.

Since vendors returned to the streets on July 6, The Big Issue has been working hard to offer sellers the chance offer cashless payments, in conjunction with our technology partner iZettle.

So far, almost 400 of the 1,500 Big Issue vendors have started offering contactless payments with more offering sales through a card machine every week.

Ask your local vendor if they are offering card payments as they work hard to earn a living on the streets selling the magazine all week. This week’s magazine is available now via cash or card payments.

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