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LINKing the regions?

Key findings

  • Data published by LINK shows that there are large variations in the proportion of cash machines that charge for withdrawals across the UK

  • Relatively high proportions of ATMs are pay-to-use in Wales, the northern and the western regions of England

  • This variation was evident at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and has persisted throughout it


Automated Teller Machines (ATMs or 'cash machines') play an important role in giving consumers access to cash. Many are available twenty-four hours a day and some are in remote locations, whilst other ways to get cash out like bank branches and post offices are often not. About three-quarters of the ATMs in the UK are 'free-to-use'; the rest are 'pay-to-use' or 'surcharging', that is, they charge the user a fee for each transaction. And the proportion of ATMs that charge in this way varies across the country.

Where will you find pay-to-use ATMs?

Last May the proportion of ATMs that charged for cash withdrawals ranged from 19.0 per cent in the South East up to 28.4 per cent in the West Midlands. This regional variation is summarised in the visualisation and table below.

Leaving on one side London, with its unusual concentration of urban convenience stores and leisure venues, the regions where the proportions of pay-to-use ATMs were above-average (compared to England and Wales overall) cluster in Wales and the northern and western regions of England. All of the below-average areas lie in the southern and eastern parts of England.

There is a contiguous band of areas where pay-to-use machines are more common, running from the North East, through the North West and West Midlands and into Wales. Has this difference arisen during the pandemic, or was it always so?

Have patterns of charging altered in the pandemic?

In the chart below, lines are plotted for each of the four above-average charging regions and the five below-average regions, compared with England and Wales (E&W) overall. These show changes in the proportions of pay-to-use ATMs over time and cover the last eighteen months.

The early months of the pandemic (March to May 2020) saw a steep drop in the proportion of pay-to-use ATMs in all regions. This is unsurprising. On average, pay-to-use ATMs process far fewer daily transactions than do free-to-use machines (see LINK report), so the drop in footfall at the start of the first public health lockdown would have made many surcharging machines unprofitable to operate. After the first two months, the proportion of machines in service that were pay-to-use varied less.

The lines on the chart all have similar shapes, but at well-separated levels. The differences between the proportions of pay-to-use ATMs by region were remarkably consistent; no region started the pandemic above-average and finished below-average, or the other way about. 

In summary, the data suggests that consumers in areas lying between the North East of England and Wales (and also in London) have been more likely to come across pay-to-use ATMs throughout the pandemic.

Next steps

Understanding differences between regions is important in our work to protect cash access in all parts of the UK. LINK has furnished us with snapshot datasets that give details of the providers and locations of the ATMs that make up the network. Analysis of these alongside national statistics may offer clues about why so clear a regional division in the prevalence of pay-to-use ATMs seems both to exist and to persist.

Contact us

If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please email Steve Brown and Denise Lovett at consumerinsight@which.co.uk

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