BURNLEY MP Peter Pike has joined with the Prime Minister in urging consumers to boycott greedy banks who "rip off" customers by charging them up to £2.50 for using "hole in the wall'' cash dispensers.

PM Tony Blair launched a furious attack on the banks after the issue of new charges was raised by the Labour backbencher at Question Time at Westminster.

A meeting of bank bosses agreed new charges for customers who use the automatic cash dispensers from banks different from their own. The owner of the machine could charge £1 with the customer's bank adding another £1.50 "disloyalty fee".

In the Commons Mr Pike asked Mr Blair: "When we have a government who are so keen on eliminating poverty in the United Kingdom, are you not ashamed of banks' plans to charge customers for using cash machines?

"Does not the fact that the Nationwide is prepared to impose a lower charge show that mutuality is better and that we should have stayed with the building societies?" Mr Blair replied that he shared Mr Pike's "legitimate concerns" and said they needed to know how the charges would impact on pensioners and small rural communities where there might only be one cashpoint.

He added that the new Competition Act 1998 gave Britain new powers to crack down on anti-competitive practices which harmed consumers.

Later his official spokesman said it was up to customers in a competitive market place to make up their own minds and vote with their feet. Reports of massive increases in cash-back withdrawals from supermarket checkouts indicated many were doing just that.

Today Mr Pike said: "It's a rip off. When banks have just reported combined profits of more than £20 billion it is just greed. They are simply profiteering at the expense of customers.

"Pensioners and those on low incomes and people in rural areas where they may be just one cashpoint will be hardest hit."

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