To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the proposal by the LINK network of AGM providers to reduce interchange fees on (a) consumers, (b) small business and (c) high streets and (d) access to cash for customers; whether his Department has made an assessment of the combined effect of that proposal with a reduction in the availability of banks on (i) consumers and (ii) businesses; and what progress has been made on the commitment he gave in his evidence to the House of Lords Exclusion Committee on engaging with the LINK network and its members to ensure that widespread free access to cash is maintained.
The Government recognises that widespread free access to cash remains extremely important to the day-to-day lives of many consumers and businesses in the UK, and will continue to work with industry to ensure that this access continues. Since 1998, the number of free to use ATMs has more than doubled, from 24,600 to over 53,000.
The Government has not made any formal assessment of the potential effect of LINK’s proposals to reduce interchange fees in isolation, or in combination with bank branch closures. However, the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), which Government set up in 2015 with the statutory objective to ensure that the UK’s payment systems work in the interests of their users is monitoring developments within ATM provision, and is conducting ongoing internal work on the impact that changes may have on ATM provision. Government is confident that the PSR will use its powers to act should any of the firms it regulates behave in a way that conflicts with its statutory objectives.
The Government is engaging regularly with LINK and its members, and they have assured us that industry is committed to maintaining an extensive network of free-to-use cash machines, and to ensuring that the present geographical spread of ATMs is maintained. LINK intend to bolster their Financial Inclusion Programme, which ensures the provision of ATMs in areas of deprivation, where demand would not otherwise make one viable, and have recently also committed to protecting all free-to-use ATMs which are a kilometre or more from the next nearest free-to-use ATM. The Government expects this additional commitment to be of particular benefit to rural areas.