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UK Cash System at Risk of ‘Falling Apart’

A review by finance experts has warned that the system that allows people to use cash within the UK could potentially ‘fall apart.’

The experts have stated that a new ‘guarantee’ is needed in order to ensure that people can still use cash, and they have urged the government and regulators to ‘step in’ to do this.

The report – named Access to Cash Review - made numerous suggestions to ensure cash remains viable, such as council and utility bills allowing customers to pay using cash, as well as rural shops offering cash-back to their shoppers. It also stated that an independent body should be set up – funded by banks – that would take action if communities did not have adequate access to cash, such as from ATM machines and shops.

The use of cash has been declining drastically over the past few years, and in 2017, debit card use overtook the amount of cash payments made within the UK for the first time ever. It is thought the increasing popularity and convenience of contactless payment was the driving force behind this statistic. The report highlighted that should statistics like this continue, then the current rate of cash decline would mean that as of 2026 cash use would end.

Cashless businesses are now opening, which refuse to accept cash as a payment method. Owners of these businesses have said that by refusing to accept cash, they save their businesses hours each week, and thousands of pounds in the long run. Having no cash on the premises means time is saved upon closing as tills do not need to be cashed up, and it is also saved as they are not required to take cash to the bank to pay in to accounts. They also state that a cashless premises is less of a security risk.

The report highlighted that cash is a necessity for approximately eight million people; those living in rural communities who suffer poor broadband/mobile signal, those living with mental/physical health problems and those who are homeless without access to bank accounts and debit cards.

The report concluded: “Poverty is the biggest indicator of cash dependency, not age. There are worrying signs that our cash system is falling apart. ATM and bank branch closures are just the tip of the iceberg, underneath there is a huge infrastructure which is becoming increasingly unviable as cash use declines. If we sleepwalk into a cashless society, millions will be left behind.”

Consumer group Which? has already requested that a regulator be established for this area, who would have the responsibility of protecting the access to cash within the UK.

However, Eric Leenders from UK Finance said, “The finance industry is using a range of solutions to ensure cash can still be accessed including over the counter withdrawals through 11,500 Post Offices and cash-back from retailers, to investment in ATMs and mobile bank branches to reach more rural communities.”

Peachey, Kevin. ‘Pay by Cash? Not for Long, Report Warns.’ BBC News Online. (6th March 2019).