CFA member Financial Counselling Australia has welcomed a government announcement that problems with ATM access in remote Indigenous communities will be addressed. Consumer groups are much less impressed with the lack of action on other problems with ATM fees.
Financial counsellors and money management workers have welcomed today’s announcement from the banking industry and private ATM providers that should ultimately see ATM fees abolished in a number of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The announcement follows a report by FCA* in December 2010, that highlighted the high cost of ATM fees for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities. FCA’s report found that some people were losing as much as 20% of their incomes on ATM fees.
ATMs in very remote ATSI communities in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland are mostly owned by private ATM operators. This means that people in these communities cannot access free bank?owned ATMs, and they end up paying a fee every time they withdraw cash or check their account balance. These fees quickly add up.
Many ATSI people are also frequent users of ATMs ? for example checking an account balance multiple times on the day a payment is expected. Other people withdraw small amounts of cash regularly because this makes it easier to budget or because they purchase food every day, due to poor refrigeration. Alternatives such as internet or phone banking to check account balances are also generally not available in these communities.
Fiona Guthrie, Executive Director of FCA said that “the current situation was both untenable and manifestly unfair. This proposed reform will make an enormous difference in these communities. People on low fixed incomes will now have more money available to spend on food, clothing and other household bills.”
“We congratulate the Government on their role in brokering a solution as well as the banking industry for recognising the problem and acting decisively to do something about it.”
“This initiative from the industry shows that they are serious when it comes to helping ATSI people living in remote communities. It will make a real difference to some of the most disadvantaged people in our society who have limited access to banking facilities.”
CFA member CHOICE has however criticised the government for missing the opportunity to fix other problems with the ATM system.
* FCA was formerly the Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association. The report “ATM Fees in Indigenous Communities” was released on 1 December, 2010.^p