Big banks are ditching 37 cash machines a week in a bid to boost their profits.
The biggest four High Street lenders got rid of 1,956 ATMs in the year to October, according to figures leaked to the Mail.
It comes amid a wave of branch closures, and ferocious lobbying by banks to cut the fees which they pay when their cards are used at independent machines.
Critics said the data shows banks are abandoning customers in towns and villages, wrecking shopkeepers’ livelihoods and leaving vulnerable people without cash.
Although some dumped ATMs will have been taken over by independent operators and stay open, many have closed altogether.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, a member of the Treasury Select Committee, said: ‘This will be a particular concern to people who live in towns and villages where ATMs are already increasingly scarce.’
The figures were produced by the Link network which oversees Britain’s 70,000 free cash machines, and leaked to the Mail.
They come amid a growing backlash over a Link plan to cut the fee which banks pay to independent ATM operators to help cover costs – with regulators poised to step in if the plans hurt consumers.
Independents have warned the proposal to cut fees by 20 per cent over four years will make many free ATMs in isolated areas unprofitable and could see up to 5,000 towns and villages lose them.
Yesterday, consumer group Which? called on the Payments Systems Regulator watchdog to take urgent action.
Its finance expert Gareth Shaw said: ‘Significantly reducing this network could have a real impact on consumers, who might be left struggling to access the cash they need – and so we must see scrutiny from the regulator.’
The biggest culprit was Natwest, which got rid of 740 machines in the period – 9 per cent of its network
In response, the regulator said: ‘If we consider that any decision Link makes is not in the interests of consumers… we will take regulatory action as necessary.’
The Federation of Small Businesses also warned that independent firms will be hammered if their local source of cash shuts down.
It comes on top of around 1,000 bank branch closures this year – with RBS announcing a fresh wave of more than 250 last week with the loss of 680 jobs.
And the Mail reported last week how John Howells, who runs Link, warned that ATMs could vanish from high streets within a decade. FSB chairman Mike Cherry said any ‘threat to the cash machine network is a threat to local growth all over the UK.’
The figures seen by the Mail show that the four largest banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Natwest, owned by bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland – had 19,417 ATMs between them in October last year.
By the end of this October, the number had dropped to 17,461.
The biggest culprit was Natwest, whose parent firm RBS was rescued with £45billion of taxpayers’ money in 2008 and is still 71.5 per cent owned by the state.
Natwest got rid of 740 machines in the period – 9 per cent of its network – either by closing them down or palming them off to other operators when contracts ended with shops that host them.
Lloyds, meanwhile, handed over or scrapped 723 machines – 14 per cent of its total.
HSBC reduced its network by 347 or 17 per cent, and Barclays scrapped 146 ATMs or 4 per cent.
RBS and Natwest sources said the lender now plans to increase the number of ATMs it has in locations such as train stations.
A Lloyds spokesman said last night: ‘The decrease of ATMs against Lloyds Banking Group is largely due to the transfer of standalone ATMs that were not located in our branches to independent operators and which remain free to use.’ Barclays and HSBC declined to comment.