COMMUNITIES in remote parts of Scotland will feel the “devastating impact” of ATMs disappearing from the High Street amid fears nearly half will be closed over a funding row.

It has emerged Scotland will become one of the the worst affected parts of the UK as proposals are lodged to reduce fees for card machine operators which is set to sound the death knell on thousands of ‘hole-in-the-wall’ machines.

The news comes amid talk of a ‘High Street crisis’ as town centres struggle to remain vibrant following contractions to bus services and declining number of bank branches.

The Herald:

There are concerns particularly for the elderly in rural areas, who have lost their local post office and rely on cash machines to draw their pensions.

The concerns come as the fee LINK, the UK‟s largest cash machine network, receives from banks per transaction is to be cut from 25p to 20p from July.

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It has led to worries that more than half of Scotland's 5300 free-to-use ATMS could disappear.

Age Scotland has warned that older people will be hard hit by cuts to free-to-use ATMs ahead of a Scottish Parliament debate today and has joined Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for action over the potential implications of cash machine cuts for consumers.

They are calling for an "urgent review" of proposed changes to the ATM network to ensure people are not left isolated.

The Herald:

Brian Sloan, Age Scotland chief executive said:“Older people have already been hard hit by the recent waves of bank and post office closures, and now cuts to ATMs will make it even harder for them to access their cash. Many older people have a strong preference for using cash and rely on it for their day-to-day purchases, especially if they’re on a fixed budget.

“Poor mobility and a lack of public transport can make it even tougher for older people. Many will be left with no choice but to pay extortionate fees of up to £2.99 for pay-to-use ATMs. This will have the biggest impact on those who can least afford it and don’t have the option of driving to the nearest free machine.

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“We would urge banks to work together to invest in the ATM network, rather than cutting these vital services. They should be bold and think differently with creative solutions to meet customers’ banking needs, such as shared branches with the costs split between several banks. This would help older people throughout Scotland as well as combat the negative PR banks face with each fresh round of service reductions.”

A campaign has been launched to force Westminster to protect free-to-use ATMs in isolated Scottish towns and villages by creating a legal requirement for some devices to remain untouched.

The Herald:

Labour MP Ged Killen who is introducing a bill later this month to make free access to cash from free ATMs a statutory right said the machines are a “cornerstone” of essential services.

Research by Which? reveals that one in five (19%) of people in rural Scottish communities say their nearest free-to-use cash machine was already too far away to walk to, compared to 3% in urban areas. While for one in seven (14%) it currently takes at least half an hour to reach their nearest cash point.

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When asked about the potential impact of closures, one-fifth (22%) said they would be less likely to use local shops that require them to pay in cash and one in seven (16%) said it would affect their ability to pay for products and services.

The Herald: SUSPENDED SENTENCES:Two Romanian men have received suspended sentences for tampering with cash machines in Pembrokeshire. (3492671)

Research from the ATM Industry Association shows rural areas will be hardest hit by the fee cuts with the South West, Scotland, and the South East worst hit where 44pc, 40pc and 33pc of cash points were under threat.

Herald View: Banks must live up to their responsibilities

Gareth Shaw, Which? money expert, said: "It's clear that free-to-use cashpoints play a vital role for the majority of Scottish people and that some, particularly in rural communities, face substantial challenges to accessing cash.

"We are calling on the financial regulator to conduct an urgent review to ensure that people aren't left isolated and can access the cash they need."

Paul Wheelhouse, the minister for business, innovation and energy, Paul Wheelhouse said: “We support calls to protect the ATM network, especially in rural communities and areas already affected by previous and proposed bank branch closures, where ATMs provide a life-line service to consumers and small businesses.”

The Herald:

Andy Willox, the Federation of Small Businesses' Scottish policy convenor, said: "High streets have been battered by big business and public sector closures for almost a decade. Now cash machines could be next to desert towns and villages.

“We're calling on the Scottish Government and MSPs to urge the PSR (Payment Systems Regulator) to step in and scrutinise these proposals before it’s too late.”

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The Which? survey of 1854 people in Scotland in April found people and businesses in Scotland are heavily reliant on ATMs with nine in 10 (89%) people said free cash machines are important to their everyday lives - and of these more than half (51%) described them as essential for day-to-day living, with this figure remaining similar across every age group.

"The survey suggests a decision to reduce fees for card machine operators - which could lead to closures of free-to-use ATMs across Britain - could have a devastating impact on small businesses and rural communities in Scotland," said the consumer organisation.

LINK said the plans are part of a move to re-balance the ATM network and has committed to protecting access to free machines.

A LINK spokesman said: "We want to re-balance ATMs from a proliferation in city centres to spread them to rural and poorer areas."

LINK said it will triple the financial inclusion subsidy from 10p up to 30p for ATMs in areas with poor cash-access.