James Daley: Why is there all this fuss about cash machines?

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a good job there were no seats left when I arrived at the Treasury Select Committee hearing on cash machine charges last week. Confined to the overspill room down the hall - where the committee's nonsense was beamed in over a big screen - I was free to laugh out loud as the MPs unsuccessfully attempted to make a mountain out of a molehill.

As the directors of Halifax and Royal Bank of Scotland - and then the heads of four "charging" cash-machine operators - were subjected to mindless interrogation about how big the warnings should be on the front of charging ATMs, I wondered if there was not a better way for MPs to spend their time.

After three hours of repetitive questioning, the only apparent conclusion was that 14-point type was not big enough to warn punters they might get charged for withdrawing their cash. Revolutionary.

For those of you who have let yourself get caught up in the hype about the growth of charging cash machines, here's a few facts:

The proportion of ATMs that charge is now 40 per cent - compared to zero per cent five years ago. However, most of these are in places where there was previously no cash-point. The number of free ATMs has continued to rise - so you can still get your money free just as easily as ever. The banks are committed to maintaining a large free ATM network - because they know that if they don't, they'll get lynched. All ATMs that charge give you the option to quit if you don't want to pay. So why all the fuss?

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