BANKING bigwigs met this afternoon to try to come up with a way to keep the majority of the UKs cash machines free.
The Link network, which operates mostof the UKs free-to-use cash points, has been in the middle of a squabble over fees.
The crisis talks were calledbecause some large banks are thought to be unhappy about the fees they pay to the network.
Today they agreed to work on a way to keep cash machines free and will report back on its plans later this year.
ensuring the future of the Link network and the cash access needs of UK consumers remains their number one priority, said John Howells, chief executive of Link.
But there are still concerns that more machines will introduce charges in the future.
And if the network fails to reach asuccessful agreement thencustomers could be charged as much as 2.50 each time they want to withdraw cash.
Link operates almost all of the UKs free-to-use cash machines around 77 per cent.
Currently, each time a bank customer uses a cash machine, the card issuer pays a fee to the ATM operator for each transaction.
So, if you use for example a Lloyds card in a Barclays machine, then Lloyds will pay a small fee to Barclays to cover the cost ofrunning the machine.
That means that costs are higher forbanks whose customers userivals cash machines on a regular basis.
Some lenders were looking to renegotiate these fees and wanted more money for allowing people who are not their customers to use their cash machines.
At todays talk, however, it was agreed that the number of fee-free cash machines would remain the same for the foreseeable future.
The decision comes after MPs earlier this week saidthey could intervene if banks failed to resolve the dispute over bank fees at todays meeting.
Mr Howells said: Whilst commercial perspectives may vary, every Link member was clear at todays meeting that ensuring the future of the Link network and the cash access needs of UK consumers remains their number one priority.
It was agreed that a working group of members will be established in order to explore a way forward for the sustainability of the Link scheme, particularly Link Interchange.
This group will report back to the Link networklater in the year.
Ron Delnevo, executive director Europe at the ATM Industry Association, said: The result of the meeting today is a stay of execution for free access to cash across the UK. But no-one really knows how discussions will now progress ahead of a decision before the summer.
This issue has not gone away and will require ongoing pressure and direct involvement from the regulator and government.
This fragile situation means we may not hang on to our ATMs for long. The future of widespread free access to cash is now in the hands of just a few key decision makers, including some banks. We are not out of the woods by any means.
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