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Money crisis: Scots use of ATMs slumps by half during pandemic as cash machines and banks are cut

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NEW access to money concerns have surfaced as it emerged cash machine use in Scotland has slumped by nearly half in two years and is not returning to pre-pandemic levels.

New data seen by the Herald shows that there were 93m withdrawals in 2021 while there were 175.7m in 2019, before Covid hit the nation.

New figures from the UK’s main cash machine network LINK shows that the typical Scot is now withdrawing £1,578 per year compared to £2553 before the pandemic – a nearly 40% decline.

The UK Government has said it will legislate to protect the future of cash, although it has not yet done so and various industry efforts to maintain access are gathering pace, such as being able to request cashback without making a purchase in shops.


Scotland has been at the centre of the initiative to provide free cash withdrawals in shops without a purchase.

A new analysis from LINK explains that places that at one time would only accept cash, such as pubs and markets, are now encouraging contactless card payments, while customers have formed new habits of visiting ATMs less often, it added.

Earlier this week those measures in Scotland to protect access to cash were described as “insufficient’ by the consumer organisation Which with nearly half of saying in a survey they are unlikely to use a cashback without purchase scheme.

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Analysis produced exclusively for the Herald by the consumer organisation Which? revealed that nearly half (47%) of the over 1000 bank branches which were open in Scotland six years ago will have shut by last year.

At the end of last year, Edinburgh-based TSB announced plans to axe 70 more of its branches putting 150 jobs at risk.

Meanwhile the number of cash machines in Scotland is estimated to have been cut by a quarter over three years.

Adam Stachura, head of policy and communications at Age Scotland, said it was crucial to ensure there was access to cash.

“There is no doubt that how we are paying for things has changed for the majority of people with a drastic shift away from cash as a result of the pandemic. More and more vendors have card and contactless options as the default and tapping your card or phone can be the most straightforward way to pay these days,” he said.

“But it is interesting that people are taking out more cash whenever they do use an ATM than they had in the past. This demonstrates that cash is still an important part of our lives and for hundreds of thousands of adults on low and fixed incomes, not just older people, it is how they budget and spend so we must not underestimate its value.

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“We also have to remember that around 140,000 adults in Scotland don’t have a bank account so without the options to use cash they can be locked out. It is really important that access to cash is not only protected and that there is a wide network of free to use ATMS, but its use is encouraged by businesses and services.”


LINK data shows that transactions fell by 7% across Scotland in the last year, with 101m withdrawals made in 2020.

Across the UK, the average person aged over 16 visited a cash machine 18 times last year and withdrew £1,462 in total.

The fall in the number of cash machine withdrawals in 2021 was less severe than a 40% decline in the number of withdrawals in 2020 compared with 2019, amid lockdowns and other coronavirus-related restrictions.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, ATM transactions in the UK were typically declining 10% year-on-year, Link said, as people used other ways to pay, such as contactless cards.

Graham Mott, director of strategy at Link, said: “In the second half of last year the numbers were similar to what we saw in 2020.

“This is beginning to feel like the new normal and we don’t expect the number of transactions, or the amounts withdrawn, to return to anything like pre-pandemic levels.

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“In fact, what we’re generally seeing is that consumers that are using ATMs have formed a new habit of visiting less often but withdrawing more cash each time they visit, typically £10 to £15 more.”

He added: “Anecdotally, locations such as markets or even pubs that pre-pandemic only accepted cash, now all have card readers and continue to actively encourage contactless payments.

“Therefore, some consumers who are confident using digital or contactless payments, now use cash less often than they did pre-pandemic and seem unlikely to ever revert back.

“However, we know that there are still more than five million people who rely on cash and digital payments are not an option.”

Link’s figures show there were 52,547 ATMs in December 2021, of which 40,856 were free to use.

In December 2019, before UK lockdown restrictions, there were 59,610 ATMs, of which 44,870 were free to use.

In December 2020, there were 40,608 free to use ATMs – a figure which is lower than in December 2021.

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