DEPRIVED areas of Scotland are losing free cash machines at a much faster rate than affluent ones - forcing thousands in poorer communities to pay 'rip-off' fees to get their money, new research has found.

Which? analysis of data from LINK - the UK’s largest ATM network - shows one in 10 (9%) free cashpoints across the UK closed or switched to fee-paying in a 17-month period after major changes to how the network is funded.

The consumer organisation found poorer communities have been hardest hit by these changes, with those most reliant on cash and who can least afford to pay for withdrawals facing charges of up to £2 or being forced to travel long distances to access their own money for free.

Overall, Which? found that the most deprived areas in Scotland saw a reduction of 155 free-to-use machines - equivalent to over 9% per cent of the ATM network.

But the least deprived areas lost just 28 free cashpoints - equivalent to around four per cent of their network of machines.

READ MORE: Analysis -  'Loss of cash machines affects decisions on whether to eat'

Scotland has lost 562 free-to-use cash machines between January 2018 and May 2019 - the equivalent of 35 per month.

Airdrie and Shotts has seen the highest rise in the proportion of cash machines that you had to pay to use over the 17 months with over one in four (27%) of the 89 ATMs charging customers to withdraw their money in May, up from 14 per cent. In SIMD 2012, just over one in four Airdrie and Shotts zones were found in the 15% most deprived in Scotland.

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Meanwhile, Glasgow Central registered the biggest loss of free-to-use ATMs over the 17-month period examined, with 27 disappearing. The SIMD found that Glasgow has 56 of the 100 most deprived areas in Scotland.

Which? chief executive Anabel Hoult and Natalie Ceeney, chairman of the independent Access to Cash Review have written to Chancellor Sajid Javid, calling on the government to take action to guarantee people’s ability to access and pay with cash, ensuring that millions of people who rely on it as a payment method are not left behind as digital payments grow in popularity.

And the Federation of Small Businesses has called on the Government to take action to protect free cashpoints.

Jenny Ross, money editor of Which? said: “We know that people in more deprived communities tend to rely heavily on cash, so it’s deeply concerning that those who can least afford it are being hit with the extra burden of hefty fees to access their own money as free cashpoints close at an alarming rate.

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“The government and regulators must urgently get a grip on these rapid changes to the cash landscape and guarantee people across the UK can continue to access this important payment method for as long as it is required.”

READ MORE: Regulator investigates the scale of bank cash machine closures

The consumer organisation found that in Paisley and Renfrewshire South 29% of ATMs were pay to use in May, this year up from 22% Three years ago, the Scottish Index of Multiple of Deprivation named Ferguslie Park in Paisley as the most deprived area of the country and in 2012 27 of 87 of Paisley zones were found in the 15% most deprived in Scotland.

Orkney and Shetland had the highest proportion of cash machines that charge customers, with nearly one in three imposing a fee to withdraw money.

The fall in access to ATMs has come at a time when Scotland has lost one in three bank branches in just eight years, with over 400 closing since 2015, making it one of the worst affected areas in the UK. More often than not, the cashpoints will also go with them.

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Access to cash campaigner Ged Killen, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, said: “These figures prove beyond doubt what many of us have been saying for years - that the most deprived communities are disproportionally impacted when it comes to accessing their own cash.

“It is about time that the Government got a grip on this crisis before it is too late.

“No one should ever have to pay to access their own money."

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) chairman Mike Cherry, added: “Millions of small business owners still have customers that want to pay in cash. Often these customers are among society’s most vulnerable: the elderly, those on tight budgets and those with disabilities.

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“It’s vital that banks, regulators and the Government work together to arrest the decline of our cash network. Otherwise we risk yet another blow to our high streets: reduced footfall as bank branches and ATMs are lost and less cashflow in local economies. "

READ MORE: Banks must pledge to keep a branch in every town or face legislation, say Scottish MPs

LINK issued a pledge in August to guarantee free access to cash on every high street in the UK.

It said that should a high street be threatened with the loss of an ATM or Post Office, it will step in to ensure that a cash machine is made available and paid for with funding from all the UK's main banks and building societies.

But Which? is concerned that measures in place to help those in deprived or isolated areas will not be effective enough and that the current proposals will not adequately safeguard free cash access in the long-term.

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Ged Killen

It believes the Payment Systems Regulator must urgently take control of how cashpoints are funded to address the rapid reduction in free cash access across the UK.

The consumer organisation says the government need to introduce legislation giving the PSR a duty to ensure the many people still reliant on cash are not forced to pay just to access it through the double blow of bank branch and cashpoint closures and an alarming shift to fee-charging machines.

READ MORE: One in five cash machines in Scotland to charge in a year

A LINK spokesman said:The 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.

HeraldScotland:

"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.

"However, consumers are using less cash and Link will need the support of all stakeholders to sustain the footprint right across the UK. We will in particular continue to work closely with regulators and government."

* Across the UK,Which? found that the most deprived areas saw a cut of 979 free-to-use machines - equivalent to six per cent of their ATM network.
The least deprived areas lost just 223 free cashpoints - around four per cent of the network.