SCOTLAND has lost 158 free-to-use cash machines in the space of just one month with 120 of them now charging customers for the right to withdraw their money, our sister title the Herald can reveal.

The figures for December from LINK, the overseers of the UKs largest cash machine network, seen by the newspaper, show that the rate by which Scots are losing the right to free access to cash is at an all time high – despite attempts to preserve them.

Which?, the consumer organisation is today urging the new chancellor to use next month’s budget to protect the UK’s access to cash, as new its research reveals that the industry’s efforts to fix Britain’s broken cash landscape are doomed to fall desperately short.

It comes after it emerged that LINKs guarantee free access to cash on every Scottish high street is at risk - because demand is outstripping the cash available.

LINK have now got an extra £3m to spend on the free ATMs from the industry, but it is only enough to install around 160 across the whole of the UK. There have been over 2700 requests since the pledge was made. With one in ten requests across the UK coming from north of the border, it would mean that as it stands there is funding for just 16 free ATMs in Scotland.

Glasgow Times:

It is estimated that Scots bank customers are now paying nearly £10 million-a-year to withdraw their own money as free cash machines shut at a record rate.

Scots are estimated to have forked out £9.5m in 2019 alone – nearly double that of 2018 when banks took in £5m from their customers.

Now the newspaper has learned that at the end of 2019 there were 4437 free-to-use ATMs in Scotland – a loss of nearly 1000 in two years.

Meanwhile there are now 1420 charging ATMs – a rise of nearly 500 over two years.

Across the UK a “staggering” 9,500 free to use cash machines have been lost in the two years, says Which? which is concerned that LINK’s attempts to invest in new cash machines is expected to fall drastically short of what’s needed” to serve communities hit hard by a double whammy of sharp reductions in free to use cash machines and rapid closures of bank branches.

It is concerned industry schemes such as LINK’s are “merely scratching the surface” of a systematic issue that threatens to “cut adrift millions of people” who still view cash as an everyday necessity, as society rushes headlong to embrace the digital revolution.

Which? believes the only solution that can address the “dramatically eroded cash system” is to introduce legislation to prevent it from crumbling completely. Ahead of the budget, Which? has today (Weds) written to the chancellor, calling for legislation to be introduced that protects cash for as long as it is needed.

Panel members behind the Access to Cash Review, which published warnings a year ago that the UK is sleepwalking into a cash-free society are concerned that there is a lack of action in terms of legislation required to protect cash for as long as people need it.

SNPs Ronnie Cowan, the Inverclyde MP raised concerns with John Glen, the economic secretary to the Treasury about record numbers of cash machines charging people up to £2 just to get their cash out - particularly in less affluent areas.

Glasgow Times:

Some 29 out of 81 cash machines tested from Greenock and Port Glasgow to Gourock, Inverkip and Wemyss Bay deducted between 95p and £1.90 from customers to take out cash.

He said: “We may be moving towards a cashless society but we aren’t there yet meanwhile an increasing number of people are being asked to pay to access their own money.

“Cashpoints are closing at an alarming rate and consumers are now paying £100 million a year to withdraw their own money.

“Recently, I had a meeting with the ATM network LINK and they warned that the entire cash infrastructure could collapse within 1-2 years.

"In my constituency of Inverclyde, it is the most deprived areas that are being targeted and an unfair burden is being placed on those living there. Free access to cash must be maintained and banks have a duty of care to their customers to ensure that happens.”

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “Despite the industry’s best efforts, these initiatives just aren’t enough to help the countless communities across the UK crying out for free access to cash.

“Many people have been left struggling from the double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures - and suffered at the hands of industry mismanagement that has left Britain’s cash landscape on the verge of collapse.

“This budget will decide the future of cash. The chancellor has a huge opportunity here to protect cash for the millions of people who rely on it.”

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman Mike Cherry added: “Cash remains the payment method of choice for millions of small business customers, and for many it is still an essential part of the payments mix.

“When bank branches and ATMs are lost that hurts footfall and cashflow in local communities, making it harder for small firms to compete. Equally when ATMs start charging, every pound lost to fees is a pound not spent with the small firms that drive economies forward.

“We need to see a guarantee which enables those who want to use cash to continue doing so – especially in remote and rural areas – alongside a resilient wholesale cash infrastructure to ensure that the use of cash remains viable as its presence declines."