Access to free cash machines is declining in some of the most deprived communities, experts have warned.
Research by the University of Bristol found “stark differences” in access to cash between different types of neighbourhoods in the city.
Bank branches and free cashpoints were concentrated in areas of economic activity, such as the affluent neighbourhood of Clifton.
Cash machines in more deprived areas tended to be owned by firms that increasingly charge people to withdraw money, researches said.
On Whiteladies Road – known as the Golden Mile – 29% of cash machines were not owned by banks.
This compared to 89% of cashpoints in the more deprived area of Stapleton Road in Easton.
Two-thirds of the cash machines that began charging fees between October 2018 and March 2019 were within deprived neighbourhoods.
Dr Daniel Tischer, lecturer at the University of Bristol’s School of Management, said: “As part of our research, we regularly encountered people who found it difficult to access mainstream banking products.
“They do not use digital payments because they find it easier to manage their money in cash, and simply had a lack trust in digital banking. For these people, cash very much continues to be king.
“It’s important to understand the way in which access to cash is changing for the UK population.
“Much of the debate to date has focused on the overall number of ATMs or bank branches in the UK, without much understanding of the importance of geography – but where these ATMs are makes a big difference.
“While a future without cash may be almost inevitable, if the patterns found in Bristol are replicated nationally, it is likely that we’ll see a return to old geographies of financial exclusion, with deprived communities struggling most as cash becomes less common.”
The research found that a quarter of ATMs in Bristol have no alternative within 250 metres (820ft) in the event they close or malfunction.
Almost half of fee-charging cashpoints have no free alternative within 250 metres.
This could have negative impacts for those with mobility issues and risk creating “cash deserts”, the researchers warn.
They found Post Offices were less likely to provide banking services in deprived areas.
It is estimated that 2.2 million people report they only use cash, with 1.3 million people without a bank account.
Jamie Evans, from the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre, said: “Despite the rise in digital payments, cash remains key to day-to-day economic activity – especially for many marginalised and vulnerable people in our society.
“Communities need to be able to access cash, but the market is not currently functioning in their best interests. Ironically, those who are best served appear to be those who are most likely to use digital payments.
“The provision of cash infrastructure appears not to reflect the geographical need for it by some of the older and less well-off residents. Future policy should seek to understand the needs of such groups and take these more fully into account.”
Sara Davies, co-author on the report, said more than three quarters of convenience store customers pay by cash.
She described it as “fundamental” to businesses such as taxi drivers or window cleaners.