Free cashpoints are vanishing from the high street at an alarming rate, according to consumer rights group Which?.
Nearly 1,700 cash machines were converted to charge fees in the first three months of this year alone, research by the organisation found.
And two of the UK’s biggest cashpoint providers have admitted they are likely to convert thousands more by the end of the year.
NoteMachine said it was considering converting some 4,000 of its 7,000 cashpoints to charge fees, while Cardtronics – the UK’s biggest single operator – warned it would probably make another 1,000 machines fee-charging.
Which? said the rate of change meant the UK risked becoming a “no cash” society, which could shut millions of people out of vital local services.
“Communities are being stripped of free access to cash at an alarming rate that could hit the most vulnerable in our society the hardest, while denying millions of people free withdrawals,” said Gareth Shaw, head of money at the group.
“A regulator is desperately needed to get a grip of these rapid changes across the cash landscape and ensure all those still reliant on this important payment method aren’t suddenly shut out from accessing the cash they need in their daily lives.”
The shift comes after the rate that machine providers could charge banks for every transaction was reduced by Link, the company that manages the UK’s network of machines. Operators say that as a result, they need to make up that shortfall by charging customers instead.
They say they also need to increase fees as consumers increasingly switch to contactless payments, meaning fewer people are using cash machines.
But Link said there was no danger of free cashpoints disappearing.
John Howells, the chief executive, said: “Free access to cash is vital for consumers and the UK enjoys extensive coverage that Link is committed to protecting.
“There are more than 50,000 free-to-use ATMs across the UK, 10,000 more than we had in 2009, and currently 12,700 pay-to-use cash machines, down from over 23,000 in 2009.
“Less than 3 per cent of withdrawals at Link ATMs incur a fee.”
A spokeswoman for Cardtronics said: “The decision on whether to introduce a fee is taken on a case-by-case basis and reflects the economic viability of the individual machine. We only ever charge a fee when there is no other option apart from removing the machine altogether.”
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