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Walking the Tightrope: Daylight Robbery

Sally Codman bemoans the fact that many folk have to pay to draw their own money from the bank.

As I’m busy slaving over this hot typewriter (okay computer keyboard)a Commons Treasury Select Committee are reported to be busy considering millions of cases of ‘daylight robbery’ that occur in high streets throughout the country every day of the week.

How so?

I imagine you’re all thinking, surely robbery on such a grand scale would hit the headlines everyday if this were really the case?

Yep, I’m sure it would, if this were the high-profile hoods n’ guns robbery portrayed on TV and in films. We’re not talking high-profile robbery here, although we are talking big money – over £140m if some estimates are accurate - and if you’ve ever paid a fee to withdraw your own hard-earned dosh from a hole-in-the-wall, then you are one of these ‘daylight robbery’ victims.

That £140m figure is the amount collected by fee-charging cash-machines in 2004, at least according to the Nationwide Building Society – who don’t, of course, charge their customers for withdrawals. Nationwide have also estimated that during the first seven months of last year, there was a 29 per cent increase in ATMs making charges of between £1.25 – £1.75 to allow you the priveledge of getting your hands on your own money.

The actual operating cost of providing a withdrawal from a machine is just 31p – according to the agreement that covers transaction between banks. The fees charged by machines are set by the shop or bar owner on whose premises the ATM is situated.

Another of the big high street banks, HSBC, has warned that the future will see as many as 50 per cent of ATMs charging for cash withdrawals. HSBC have pledged to retain free machines in their branches, although they, like many other banks, have sold their rights to non-branch based machines to the Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS, which owns NatWest, also owns a subsidiary called Hanco, which operates and maintains thousands of fee-charging machines.

According to a report in one national paper last weekend, the number of cash machines that make charges has risen from almost 7,000 in 2001 to around 21,000 today – some 40 per cent of all machines in operation.

Even our soldiers on military bases are being targeted - of the 268 cash machines on bases here and in Germany, 251 levy a surcharge. Now the Citizens Advice Bureau and other consumer groups are concerned that many banks are quietly reintroducing the cash withdrawal fees they were forced to stop charging five years ago after a public outcry. They have also warned MPs that withdrawal fees from ATMs will hit people on lowest incomes the hardest.

Some of our worthy representatives in the House of Commons appear to be taking these complaints on board and as I write are due to be questioning bosses of RBS and several other banks and cash machine companies about these charges. Let’s hope they do find them guilty of ‘daylight robbery’, because, as we wait with baited breath for high street banks to reveal what is expected to be record profits in 2004 – with some financial experts forecasting they made £31b or the equivalent of £60,000 PER MINUTE!- the public don’t see why they should continue to boost those profits every time they want to withdraw their own money.

If it wasn’t for the threat of ‘nightime robbery’ its enough to make you return to the old-fashioned jam-jars or mattress-stuffing methods of banking favoured in yesteryear. Or why not try another alternative? Credit Unions are non-profit-making financial institutions that work as mutual savings and loans societies.

There are now over 700 of them in Great Britain, and quite a few in Kirklees where I live, to choose from. Because they are not-for-profit, Credit Unions cannot charge more than one per cent interest a month on reducing balances and most people are eligible for free life insurance when they join.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

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