CROYDON COMMENTARY: Beware hidden banking charges, writes SHEILA ANDREWS, pictured right, as Croydon has more fee-charging cash machines than any other London borough, and has just got itself three more
Sunday afternoon, and I’m on my way to The Oval Tavern for a spot of lunch and a catch up with friends when I realise I’m short on cash.
“Never mind,” my partner says, “there are cash machines at East Croydon.”
But what’s going on here? £1.99 for the privilege of withdrawing my own money?
I’d never encountered this before at these machines, right beside Boxpark, on the way into the station.
Obviously refusing to pay this on principle, I trundle down George Street to the Co-Operative Bank, being the next nearest cash machine now, since the Lloyds Bank branch has closed and its machine withdrawn. But everyone else has beaten me to it and the Co-Op machine is empty.
I’ve left my partner at the station and when I get back he reports that although lots of people have approached the noew fee-charging machines, only a couple of people have actually used them.
Until now, these machines had been free to use.
So whose decision was it, in one of the busiest locations in Croydon, to start charging people to access their own money?
Citizens Advice launched a campaign in 2012 highlighting the fact that generally it is the poorest areas of the community who suffer most at the hands of cash machine operators. However, this was generally in more rural areas where an ATM might be sited in a local shop. We Londoners hadn’t really been affected by this to date, as there is usually a bank or, dare I say, station nearby where cash is available free of charge.
Ah, but I can hear you saying, “Cash? What’s that – we all use cards to pay for everything nowadays, don’t we?”
More recent research by the Financial Inclusion Commission confirms that 1.5million adults in the country don’t have a bank account, there are 2.7million people who rely on cash to manage their day-to-day living, and these will generally be the poorest in society, half of them having an annual income of less than £15,000.
It is these people who are being penalised when exorbitant fees are charged to use a local ATM.
In addition, as more bank branches, and therefore more cash machines, are closing – some suggest at a rate of 10 machines across the country every day – critics blame Visa and Mastercard and the major banks for squeezing out free-to-use machines by ensuring they become unprofitable.
One piece of recent research showed that of all London boroughs, Croydon has more fee-charging ATMs – automatic telling machines, since you ask – than any other.
Are we heading for a cashless society? I hope not.
Besides, even when we use our cards in stores, bars and cafés, the retailer or pub landlord incurs a charge which, inevitably gets passed on to the consumer – just for making a cash-less payment with our own money.
As The Observer reported recently, “Credit and debit card payments cost traders on average three times as much as cash because they have to pay a service charge to the bank that processes the payment. Part of that, the interchange fee, is passed to the card issuer and most of the rest, the scheme fee, goes to Visa or Mastercard.
“The EU capped interchange fees in 2015 and, this year, banned traders from recouping the cost through a surcharge on card transactions. However, Visa and Mastercard have diverted the savings into their coffers by quietly doubling their scheme fees. Businesses now pay nearly £1billion a year more in these charges than in 2015 and small businesses, such as cafés and corner shops, are disproportionately hit.”
In 2015, a local hero graffitied instructions on the cash machine outside Charing Cross Station in Glasgow city centre, directing customers to two alternative ATMs which allow people to withdraw money for free. One arrow points towards a Londis garage – a two-minute walk from the site – while the other arrow shows the way for a longer five-minute walk to a nearby Tesco.
While I would never advocate any act of vandalism, I wonder whether anyone will perform a similar act of subversion to the offending ATMs at East Croydon.
And in case you’re wondering, I scraped around in my purse for enough to sustain me over lunch and got my cash (free of charge) further down George Street on the way home.
- Sheila Andrews has never put any grafitti anywhere, and she works at Croydon’s Citizens Advice. She writes here in a personal capacity
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