Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly.
Accessing your money for free should be a fundamental right for everyone.
Yet in my latest report, Cash for Access, I found Londoners pay around £18 million a year in cash machine fees where free-to-use ATM’s are unavailable.
This issue was raised anecdotally by London representatives at last year’s Conservative Party Conference but the general concerns are supported by evidence.
In the past two years, 40 bank branches have closed across the capital, making free withdrawals more difficult, while statistically many Londoners live more than one km from a free cash machine.
For many of us, the increased availability of card payment means this is often not an issue. But for elderly and disabled members of the community, getting access to cash can be very important.
Limited access to free ATMs also disproportionately affects lower income groups. On average, most cash machine fees charge £1.75 for a withdrawal but some can be as high as £5 or £10. Even at £1.75, a 17.5 per cent charge to withdraw £10 seems unfairly high.
For some who are less mobile, paying these exorbitantly high fees is a necessity, not an acceptable price for convenience.
One representative I spoke to at the Conference explained that in his area the only cash machines within a mile of his local council estate charge to withdraw money.
The issue of access to free cash machines has been debated politically since as far back as 2004 when the House of Commons Treasury Committee produced a report on the issue. As technology for electronic payment is more widely introduced, fewer cash machines will exist, but it is important this growth does not have a damaging effect of more vulnerable members of our society.
Whilst the implementation of cash machines is largely a private enterprise, the Mayor of London is ideally placed to highlight the issue. Increasing access to free cash machines especially for those on low incomes would contribute to improving fairness and social justice in London.
My report suggests many ways in which the Mayor can do this without interfering in private enterprise. Firstly, he could include in the London Plan or his Supplementary Planning Guidance the requirement that master-planning for major developments should include suitable provision for free cash machines where necessary. He could also classify free cash machines as ‘social infrastructure’ within the London Plan.
The Mayor should work with the London boroughs and other public bodies to promote the inclusion of free-to-use cash machines in public buildings.
And finally, TfL should ensure there are free-to-use cash machines wherever possible at London Underground, London Overground, TfL Rail, DLR stations and TfL property.