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Concern for vulnerable people as shops refuse cash payments

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

The coronavirus outbreak has accelerated the shift towards a cashless society and vulnerable people risk being left with no way to pay for essential products and services unless the government acts to protect their access to cash, Which? has warned.

Cash use has rapidly declined during the pandemic as shops move to contactless only transactions and people opt for digital payment methods to avoid handling notes.

Link, which manages the UK’s largest cashpoint network, said the current level of cash usage is now at a level that was not expected for five years.

However, millions of people still rely on cash as a payment method.

A survey by Which? found that nearly one in five people were managing finances or ordering food and essentials for someone outside of their immediate household and that half (51%) were paid in cash to do so.

The research also found that one in 10 people were refused by shops when trying to pay for items with cash.

And while nearly one in three people reported still using cash to make some or all of their payments, seven per cent said they had found it more difficult to take out cash since the outbreak began.

In March, the government committed to legislating to protect access to cash for as long as people need it, after warnings that the system could collapse within two years.

This followed investigations from Which? that found the UK had lost a staggering 10,500 free-to-use cash machines since 2017, and over a third of bank branches in less than five years.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced the timeframe for intervention, and the government’s pledge risks becoming obsolete if current trends continue to go unchallenged, which risks cutting off millions of people from the main form of payment they rely on to purchase essential products and services.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “The coronavirus outbreak has shown that cash remains vital to many consumers, particularly for vulnerable people who rely on it to pay for essential supplies.

“As a result, it’s vital that the already fragile cash system is not left to collapse completely as the UK’s shift to a cashless society accelerates.

“The government must urgently press ahead with the legislation it has already committed to before it becomes obsolete, as failure to do so risks excluding millions of people from engaging in the economy.”