The frequency of ATM ram-raids has increased by an average of 22% each year since 2014, according to a new report from Cardtronics UK.

The report found that the number of ATM attacks rose from 400 in 2014 to 722 in 2017, with the number of rural attacks surging by 61.8% last year.

It forecasts that half of all ATM ram-raids will take place in rural areas by 2020 if the trend continues.

Areas with limited access to banking facilities are being increasingly targeted, with one in four attacks in 2018 carried out in areas without a local branch, while in the first half of this year 40% of attacks occurred where there was a maximum one branch open for customers.

The report, called Victimless Crime? The true impact of ATM crime on UK communities, also revealed that as much as £110m of direct community spend has been put at risk in the last 12 months because of ATM attacks.

When an attack occurs, it can take up to four and a half months for the ATM to reopen, depriving near-by residents of their access to cash for a significant amount of time, it added.

Cardtronics has developed a five-point manifesto, in which it is calling for: a zero tolerance policy of ATM crime; harsher penalties for ATM criminals; all ATM attacks to be treated as ‘serious crime’; mandatory surveillance equipment to record cash machine crime; and more vigilance in local communities.

Douglas Johnson, owner of Johnsons of Reepham, in Norfolk, was victim of a ram-raid earlier this year. “The ram-raid on our store has had a devastating impact. Almost eight months on and the store-front has still not been repaired due to complications with our listed building,” he said.

“We thought we’d be safe by installing large bollards in front of the ATM but as it turned out even those weren’t enough to deter the ram raiders who just ploughed over them in a stolen JCB. I don’t think we’ll be re-installing another ATM, it’s just not worth the risk, or if we did, it certainly would not be in the same place as the last one.”

Julian Taylor Green, whose Spar store in Lindford, Hampshire, was raided by thieves armed with a telehandler tractor back in January, expressed a similar view.

“We were the first in what went on to become a spate of more than 10 store ATM ram raids in a 10 mile radius.

“It’s had a hugely negative impact on our business and has put intense pressure on ourselves and the staff.

“We haven’t had the ATM put back and don’t plan too. Our insurance premiums have gone up 25% even without it going back in, so it’s just not worth it.

“This type of crime needs a lot more focus from the Police who need to stop blaming builders and farmers for leaving equipment unattended and start tackling the real issue.”

Tim Halford, managing director of Cardtronics UK and Ireland, said: “For the first time, we have proof that the wider damage caused by these attacks is far greater than the direct impact to cash machines or the building they are in.

“ATM attacks are not victimless crimes, which is why we need the government, police forces, civil society organisations and the ATM industry to take action now to contain the threat of future ATM attacks.”

The recent growth in ATM attacks was partly due to a shift in organised criminality away from traditional forms of bank or cash-in transit robberies, according to DCI Nick Blackburn, of the Metropolitan Police. “Criminal gangs are currently far more interested in committing ATM offences,” he added.

Commenting on the situation, Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “While providing free access to cash for local customers remains an important community service, retailers have to weigh up the benefits against the cost and risks associated with providing an ATM outside their store.

“This decision is made even harder by the increases in costs being put through by LINK, as well as the ongoing legal case surrounding the business rates payable on ATMs outside stores.”

According to the 2018 Local Shop Report, 46% of convenience stores currently have a free to use cash machine, while 16% have a charged machine.