Banks and ATM providers to face ‘big sting’ penalties under new cash access plans

Michael McGrath’s Bill aims to halt decline in number of ATMs with country divided into eight zones and minimum quotas of ATMs per 100,000 people to be specified

Banks which do not comply with new rules to ensure access to cash and ATMs in communities around the country can expect a “pretty big sting” with potentially large financial penalties, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath has warned.

Mr McGrath received Cabinet approval for the Access to Cash Bill which will ensure there is no further decline in the number of ATMs in towns and villages around the country. It will also see ATMs regulated for the first time.

Under the legislation, the country is broken into eight geographical areas and Mr McGrath will set out the minimum number of ATMs per 100,000 people as well as the percentage of the population within no more than 10 km of a cash service point.

The level of access to cash will be maintained initially at December 2022 levels. Banks or ATM providers which do not provide adequate access to cash could face a range of sanctions.


Mr McGrath said this would represent “a pretty big sting” as providers would be labelled as designated entities under the Central Bank Act 1942. This would mean that the Central Bank could issue a caution or reprimand, or a direction to pay a monetary penalty.

The proposals come amid a sharp decline in the amount of cash being withdrawn since the pandemic.

Under Mr McGrath’s proposals, he will also have the power to cap access fees which are imposed by ATM operators in the State. An access fee is usually a flat-rate fee to use a specific ATM. They are generally not a feature in Ireland but Mr McGrath will reserve the power to cap them. This is separate to normal bank charges.

There will also be measures to address local deficiencies which would mean one of the three main banks would have to install a new ATM. These could come about due to challenges with local infrastructure or from large-scale increases in population due to several large housing schemes coming on stream within a short period.

“I do believe there is a genuine risk of financial exclusion if we allow the market to determine what is an appropriate level of access to cash. And I think, over time, we would see more and more ATMs being withdrawn from communities across the country. That is not something that we want to see happen,” Mr McGrath said, explaining the rationale behind the legislation.

“Another area where we are making a change here relates to the actual regulation of the ATM operators and indeed cash-in-transit providers as well. For the first time, there will be regulations for independent ATM deployers and for all ATM operators that will cover issues such as service standards, hours of operation and withdrawal limits, denomination stocking, outages and maximum downtime period as well as communication requirements,” Mr McGrath said.

Separately, Mr McGrath has also promised flexibilities to the tax debt warehousing scheme to help businesses struggling with finances post Covid-19. An estimated €1.7 billion is owed in Covid-era warehoused tax debt.

“We are engaging with the Revenue Commissioners in relation to changes to the warehousing regime. It has been a very important part in helping to sustain businesses during Covid-19. We are looking now at the terms of the warehousing regime in the context of the May 1st deadline. That May 1st deadline is not that the tax that has to be repaid by then, it is that businesses must have entered into an arrangement with the Revenue Commissioners… My guiding principle here is to be as flexible as we possibly can be to facilitate businesses that are experiencing cashflow problems,” the Minister said.

“We will provide an extended period of time for businesses to repay that debt. And we will also provide in-built flexibility as there will be times when the business has to step out of the repayment arrangement.”

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Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times