Millions of elderly and vulnerable people could suffer as Britain sleepwalks into becoming a cashless society claims a new study.
A report by former Chief Ombudsman Natalie Ceeney says banknotes and coins are a necessity for eight million people. Concern was also expressed for people living in rural areas or struggling with debt.
The Access To Cash study was paid for by ATM network operator Link, but was independent of it.
Said Ms Ceeney: “If we don’t plan carefully for a world of lower cash, in other words, if we sleepwalk into a cashless society, millions of people will be left behind.
“As cash use continues to fall, we need to safeguard the use of cash for those who need it, and at the same time work hard to ensure that everyone can participate in this digital economy.
“Do we want a situation where sectors of society are unable to use certain shops or pay for council services, purely because they use cash?
“Conditions such as Parkinson’s and arthritis can make it hard to use touch screens. People who suffer mental health problems tell us that, at times of poor health, access to digital payments can lead them to clear their bank account within hours.”
Last year use of debit cards overtook cash transactions as Britain’s most popular payment method with 13.2 billion debit card transactions – 100 million more than those with notes and coins.
Cash use has halved over the last 10 years and it is now only used in 3 out of 10 transactions. Its use is forecast to halve again over the next 10 years.
But in some sectors it is still used frequently with 74% of all charitable giving being paid in cash and 85% of all window cleaner payments made the same way.
Ms Ceeney highlights a number of risks in her report, including:
- Struggles in rural communities where alternative ways of paying would be affected by poor broadband or mobile connectivity
- Difficulties for some people with physical or mental health problems who find it hard to use digital services
- Rising debt levels, owing to budgeting being easier with cash
- Lost independence for those who use cash as a lifeline when in difficult or abusive relationships
Higher prices for those who are unable to benefit from online services or direct debits
Ron Delnevo, of the European ATM Industry Association, was forceful in his support for cash, saying: “The UK public remain heavily committed to cash use and this must be respected by all payment market participants, however disappointing that might be for their narrow commercial interests.”
The banking industry favours a mix of payment methods with Eric Leenders of trade body UK Finance saying: “Our own research shows that while cash usage is declining, it will still be the second most common payment method in 10 years’ time.
“Maintaining access to cash is vital to ensure no customer is left behind. From over-the-counter withdrawals through 11,500 Post Offices and cashback from retailers, to investment in ATMs and mobile bank branches to reach more rural communities, the finance industry is using a range of solutions.”