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Deprived neighbourhoods, often those where people are most likely to rely on cash, are rapidly witnessing the disappearance of their free cashpoints, reveals a new esearch from the University of Bristol.

Over two-thirds of the ATMs which became fee-charging in Bristol between October 2018 and March 2019 were within particularly deprived neighbourhoods, the study found.

A quarter of ATMs in Bristol have no alternative within 250m in the event of their closure or a malfunction, while 49 per cent of fee-charging ATMs have no free alternative within 250m. This may have negative impacts for those with mobility issues and risks creating cash deserts, the researchers warned in their report.

The study also found that ATMs in more deprived areas tend to be owned by cash machine firms, such as Cardtronics and Notemachine, which are increasingly charging users to withdraw money.

Comparing a relatively affluent part of the city, Whiteladies Road in Clifton, with a more deprived area, Stapleton Road in Easton, researchers found 29 percent of ATMs in Whiteladies Road are non-bank owned, compared to 89 percent in Stapleton Road.

The Post Office network also fails these communities as the research shows branches in deprived communities are far less likely to provide banking services.

“Despite the rise in digital payments, cash remains key to day-to-day economic activity – especially for many marginalised and vulnerable people in our society. Communities need to be able to access cash, but the market is not currently functioning in their best interests. Ironically, those who are best served appear to be those who are most likely to use digital payments,” said Jamie Evans from the Personal Finance Research Centre of the University of Bristol, a co-author of of the report.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of the Convenience Stores, said the findings of the study are concerning and asked the Payment Systems Regulator to investigate.

“This problem will get worse as LINK reduces the fees banks pay to operators of free to use cash machines. The Payment Systems Regulator should consider this research carefully and investigate whether the same trend is occurring across the rest of the UK,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Treasury Committee published a report on consumer’s access to financial services, raising concerns that the UK could inadvertently become a cashless society, with ‘stark consequences’ for a large portion of society.

The Access to Cash Review, published earlier this year, found 47 percent would find it personally problematic if there was no cash in society. An estimated 2.2 million people report that they only use cash, while there are as many as 1.3 million people who don’t have a bank account.

“While a future without cash may be almost inevitable, if the patterns found in Bristol are replicated nationally, it is likely that we’ll see a return to old geographies of financial exclusion, with deprived communities struggling most as cash becomes less common,” warned Daniel Tischer from the University of Bristol’s School of Management.