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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Bank pledges to install free ATMs
A cash machine
RBS will install 300 new cash machines
Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has announced that it is to install 300 free-to-use cash machines in some of the UK's poorest locations.

The bank said it wanted to make cash easily available to poorer consumers.

Citizens Advice recently warned that many poorer parts of the UK were becoming cash machine "deserts" as banks closed branches.

Many consumers have increasingly had to depend on a growing network of fee-charging cash machines.

Generally, these machines charge about 1.75 for cash withdrawal.

RBS is inviting members of the public, MPs and credit unions to nominate areas where they think the new cash machines should be located.

HBOS, which owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, followed its rival's announcement with plans for 100 new fee-free machines of its own - which it promised would appear in places where no such ATMs were currently sited.

In recent years the number of free cash machines has stood still. Meanwhile, the number of fee-charging machines has grown apace.

Having access to free cash machines will make a real difference to thousands of people who can ill afford the high costs they currently face
Sue Edwards, Citizens Advice

In fact, according to banking industry figures, nearly 22,000 of the UK's 54,000 cash machines now charge a fee.

High costs

Banks have often cited high maintenance costs as a reason for not installing new free-to-use cash machines.

RBS told BBC News that it had found a way of reducing costs.

It will use the same model machines as Hanco, a subsidiary of RBS which operates fee-charging cash machines.

However, the machines will be branded RBS or NatWest and display signs indicating that cash withdrawal is free.

"If there's a will in local communities to find suitable sites, we have a way to make it happen and ensure those with the greatest need have free access to their cash," said RBS chief of retail markets Gordon Pell.

Commitment call

Citizens Advice, which has long campaigned for more free cash machines, gave the initiative a cautious welcome.

"Having access to free cash machines will make a real difference to thousands of people who can ill afford the high costs they currently face," Sue Edwards, Citizens Advice senior policy officer, said.

However, the charity called on RBS to commit to keeping the machines in place for at least three years.

In response, RBS said that they were in it "for the long term".

The spread of fee-charging machines has been very controversial.

Consumer groups and charities have argued that their spread disproportionately affects the poor and those who do not have access to transport, so that they can travel to use a free machine.

It is widely expected that HSBC will announce similar plans to install new free cash machines over the next few days.

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