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Covid ‘hastens move towards cashless society’

When was the last time you paid for goods or services with cash or a business refused to take cash and insisted you pay by card?

Both questions, which led to plenty of pondering among the SW&A team, were prompted by a recent survey suggesting coronavirus had hastened a shift towards a cashless society.

Consumer group Which? revealed that 34% of people quizzed said that they had been unable to pay with cash at least once since March 2020.

Grocery stores, pubs and restaurants were most likely to refuse to take notes and coins and Natalie Ceeney, who has written a report on the issue called Access to Cash, has urged ministers to act.

“Figures show that it’s not simply the odd coffee shop going cashless, but this is creeping into the wider economy,” said Ms Ceeney.

“We can’t just blame individual businesses. Many are going cashless because they can’t easily bank cash takings as their local branch is closed or some distance away. The government needs to legislate to protect the viability of cash as it promised to do so last year.”

Which? said lack of cash access was a problem for people with certain health conditions or without access to a computer.

Jenny Ross, editor of Which? Money, said: “We have repeatedly warned about the consequences that coronavirus will have on what was an already fragile cash system, but nowhere near enough action has been taken by the government or the regulator to understand the scale of this issue.”

The situation has been made even more problematic by the amount of bank branches disappearing from our High Street – HSBC and Barclays are among the latest to announce closures – and the fact that more than one in four cash machines are charging people to withdraw their money at a time when banks are saving millions by closing branches.

In February 2020 Which? estimated that more than 8,700 free ATMs have closed in the past two years, with rural communities worst affected. The closure of bank branches – about 1,200 in the same period – has reduced access to ATMs and can force people to use fee-charging machines or face having to venture further afield to find a free-to-use one.

SW&A fully understands the problems people face if cash is rejected by traders and hopes that a solution can be found quickly to ensure that it can still be used with confidence across all areas of society.