A recent study by Which? shows shops refusing to accept cash are rendering customers helpless in terms of being able to buy groceries and other necessities. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, fewer shops are accepting cash payments, leaving thousands of customers who do not have access to debit cards and credit in the lurch.
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Many of the people who have been refused the service of cash payment come from deprived backgrounds. While shopkeepers are only trying to respect the government’s social distancing restrictions, their refusal of accepting cash is impacting the viability of the UK’s cash economy, the study said.
Cash use is still extremely essential in the UK, and many people are still reliant on it. This is because they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with mobile and digital banking, or they live in remote areas with no bank branches nearby. Which? surveyed close to 2,500 people, asking them to report any payment problems they encountered over the previous month. Two-fifths of the respondents who faced issues while making cash payments also mentioned not having access to an alternative payment method.
Elderly residents in the UK often avoid carrying around cards to prevent the risk of card fraud. Thomas Scobie, a resident of Stirling who lives on Universal Credit, said that he could not find any shops that accepted cash payments and was hence unable to buy essentials during the pandemic. As an individual with a chronic health condition as well as a mental health disorder, he found the process of searching for shops that would accept cash payments “a real struggle and depressing".
Around 51% of British citizens believe that shops and businesses should be obliged to accept cash, according to a recent Access to Cash Review report. However, in the UK, it is not illegal for a shop or a business to refuse cash payments. The Review previously recommended that essential government services, monopoly and utility services should be required to accept cash.
Natalie Ceeney, the chairwoman of the Access to Cash Review committee, said that businesses refusing cash are excluding vulnerable segments of society from participating in the local economy. She also added that since so many people are going through a tough time, it is important not to isolate them even more.
To counter the reduced availability of cash in specific locations, the UK government, along with the Financial Conduct Authority is drafting a plan to protect the cash system in the UK. Some of the proposed initiatives include exploring alternative locations for bank branches, as well as offering customers the option to receive cashback in stores without making a purchase.
This move has been supported by Which? as well as other charities for the elderly, who have recommended that the FCA should keep a strict eye on the progress of these initiatives to ensure that they are implemented soon to protect the UK from “sleepwalking into a cashless economy”.