Byers threatens to stop banks' ATM charge

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THE Government threatened yesterday to intervene to stop high street banks and building societies charging customers pounds 1 each time they withdraw cash from rivals' machines.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, warned that a decision to impose such charges could have competition implications and said he would seek a meeting with the institutions before they make a final decision early in the New Year.

Mr Byers' warning came after a meeting of the members of Link, the UK- wide cash dispenser network, which decided yesterday to give tentative backing to calls by Barclays Bank to allow its members to charge rivals' customers who use their cash machines.

They have asked a firm of independent consultants, Frontier Economics, to come up with proposals to secure agreement on surcharging at a further meeting in February.

The Nationwide, one of the institutions opposed to the plan, argued that the charge would hit poorer customers hardest, as they make smaller withdrawals.