/ Money

Are we sleepwalking into a cashless society?

Going fully cashless will leave millions behind – do you agree with the steps the Access to Cash Review is recommending?

This is a guest post by Natalie Ceeney CBE. All views expressed are Natalie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Britain is not ready to go cashless. While many enjoy the simplicity and convenience of digital payments, they don’t yet work for everyone.

Our research found that around 17% of the population – 8 million adults – would struggle to cope in a cashless society.

Which? News: access to cash under threat

There is a widespread (and incorrect) perception that the main issue is with the old. In fact, the biggest indicator of being dependent on cash is poverty. Many people simply can’t take the risk of getting into debt, and cash remains the safest way of budgeting.

But we are fast moving away from cash. A decade ago, over 6 in every 10 transactions in the UK were in cash. It’s now down to just 3 in 10, and could fall to around 1 in 10 in 10-15 years.

Bank branch and ATM closures

We have an expensive cash infrastructure built for a world of high cash volumes, which is becoming unaffordable as cash volumes decline. We are already seeing cracks appearing with closures of bank branches and ATMs, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today’s recommendations are built on a huge amount of analysis and data that we’ve gathered, not just from the UK, but also overseas.

We’ve taken into account a wide range of evidence, speaking to more than 120 organisations, including Which? and other consumer groups, as well as talking to thousands of consumers directly.

What we’re calling for

If we do nothing, we will have communities unable to access cash, and unable to spend it. We’re calling for:

A guarantee of access to cash

Cash access to be kept free to consumers

An investigation into the costs of banking cash for small businesses

A requirement for essential and monopoly services to accept cash

Rethinking infrastructure

As cash is free for consumers, we don’t tend to think much about the costs. But behind our ATMs and shops is a complex and expensive infrastructure costing around £5bn per year.

This was built for an age of high cash, and for profit. It’s now expensive to operate and, as cash declines, becoming uneconomical. If we want to keep cash viable, we need to think radically.

There are examples in Sweden, Norway and Finland that we can learn from. As their cash use has declined, they have created a joined up ‘utility’ for the wholesale infrastructure supporting cash, to keep cash viable.

We’re calling for the Bank of England to convene a group to develop a radically different model for the wholesale management of cash.

Policy and regulation

We can no longer take cash for granted. We need clear government policy on cash, a programme of work to develop digital payments which can include everyone, and a joined up oversight and regulation of cash.

Cash can no longer be seen as just a commercial issue. We believe that our recommendations will help keep cash viable for consumers, in a way which industry can afford.

But we now need action, before it’s too late – before we lose our cash infrastructure and millions are left behind.

This is a guest post by Natalie Ceeney CBE. All views expressed are Natalie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Help us protect cash as a payment option: sign our campaign

Do you feel that we’re sleepwalking towards a cashless society? How could we be more prepared?

Coates Peter S says:
7 March 2019

Since I left school many years ago I have always preferred cash to any other form of payment although I have used both credit and debit cards now as a senior citizen I always prefer cash the banks are trying to get rid of using cheques now it’s cash
I refuse to bank online as I don’t trust the system thank goodness the Post Office are picking up some of the pieces if they’ll be allowed to
If things aren’t broken don’t try to fix them but strengthen them

B Harland says:
8 March 2019

Cash is a vital safeguard for the poor and vulnerable in our society. Cash allows for swift action in emergencies, food, shelter, travel and to help others who are in difficulty. It is impossible for anyone who is blessed with a good regular income to understand just how stressful banking can be. The uncertainty of wether a wrong payment or early direct debit has sent you into the red. Cash in your pocket will pay the gas meter, get you to work and buy lunch. Errors and fraud with banking adds and extra stress and worry to this. Many people I know draw food and bills money out of their account before it’s due to ensure it is there when needed. People worry about wether they will eat and their ability to settle debts on time. It is vital to keep the cash option and cash machine access.

H.Parry says:
8 March 2019

I fully support these comments,,it’s a retrograde step taking our banks and handling currency.

Fewer banks and ATM s and then it is law of supply and demand- ATM companies charge what they want. Only glimmer of hope is the Post Office branches that offer free cash services.

“Charges at Cash Machines

Over 97% of UK cash withdrawals are free of charge and at the majority of cash machines in the UK there is no charge for cash withdrawals when using a debit card or ATM card.

There is no sign of this changing.

Fewer ATMs are almost all in areas where there are already enough, so surplus ones are removed given the decline in their use. Where single ATMs are not near another one they are protected under the LINK scheme.

filomena L. lee says:
8 March 2019

I believe that the majority of people do not want a cashless society. It may be convenient for the banks but not for the citizens of this or any country. What matters is the people’s will. We do not want a cashless society.

8 March 2019

It is vital that paying in cash remains a permanent choice for everyone for ever. To get rid of this marvellous choice would be ruinous for everybody. There are so many people who would be totally at sea and in danger without this option. Historically we have always used cash so it is essential that we keep it now and in the future.

this the first time I have heard of this proposed development and I am horrified. Is there no limit to the actions for the convenience of the banks and the inconvenience of the rest of us

This is not a proposed development but a discussion on the natural decline in cash use as other payment methods increase in popularity. We need to consider how to adapt to this change to prevent detriment. As many comments show, cash has a place and would seemingly always have in one form or another.

One feature of the way this topic is presented seems to be to mislead some people, deliberately or otherwise, into believing cash will soon disappear and that there is an organised movement to accomplish this. I have seen nothing to verify this. If someone has then perhaps they will present it here.

Iconavetere R says:
9 March 2019

Hello Malcom R,
I think this may be of interest regarding an organised movement to abandon cash.
– “in a separate move, the Downing Street policy unit submitted a proposal to lay down an ambition to end all cash transactions by 2020, as a way to drive up productivity and disrupt some forms of criminal activity.”

“The plans for a cashless society were drawn up by Daniel Korski (now senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations) who was deputy head of the unit. “The proposal we developed to move towards a totally cashless society,” Korski said, arguing officials had agreed that was “the direction of travel anyway.”
“The main recommendation was to “set a hard target – no cash in our society by 2020.” Korski insisted that there was great excitement about this ‘inevitable’ shift. This was driven by a report that predicted “by 2025 the UK is expected to play a major part in what is being branded the “smartphone state” of the future.” It s expected by then that Britain will be the first European nation to reach the goal of being totally cashless.” https://truepublica.org.uk/united-kingdom/britains-secretive-2025-cashless-society-plan/
No surprise that the EU is very motivated to gain more control over citizens, with the exception of the German people who remember their history.

The conventional way for governments to disrupt criminal activity was to introduce replacement currency at short notice and require people to exchange their old notes for new ones. India did that a year or two ago and flushed a lot of ill-gotten gains out of circulation.

The criminal trades that depend on a ready supply of cash [such as drug dealing] would not be disrupted as other units of exchange would be used with even worse criminal consequences.

That report from Iconavetere R of policy wonks plotting to do away with cash by 2020 shows just how far from reality the goings-on in government really are.

Susan T says:
8 March 2019

I still use cash virtually every day. For small interactions, buying a loaf of bread or a few items of fruit or vegetables in small local shops, cash is the currency local traders want, they should not be expected to set up to deal in ‘card only’ transactions. There are so already so many threats to local trade and high streets, going ‘cashless’ is another potent threat. Clearly much of the younger generations use only their cards but why should their preferred habits be forced on the rest of society?!

Frank McColl says:
8 March 2019

The banks are the ones who introduced ATM’S and cards they must then be held
to account and repay any fraud or scams to peoples accounts if they persist on going
down this stupid idiotic cashless idea.

Stephen Smith says:
8 March 2019

All the previous comments are valid and it looks like all points have been covered but I’ll add my thoughts anyway. Many people do not want a “cashless society”. I myself do not do “online banking” as I do not trust the systems and as has happened fairly recently – the systems crash leaving people unable to make transactions. Also, if we go cashless how do I give my grandchildren a couple of pounds when they call round to see us? and what will happen when I want to put a few coins in a charity collection box? It’s a synical move by the banks to make life easier for themselves, they’re not interested in how people who do not have computers or those who are not computer literate will manage. The closure of bank branches and the removal of ATM’s is all part of the plan to condition us into thinking the cashless way!

Living in a rural location I use the internet for banking and credit card purchases I will not use a mobile phone for any financial transaction and in any case I have no mobile phone reception at home. I understand that banks and credit card companies are intending to improve security by sending a four digit code to your mobile phone. With no reception at home I will be unable to carry out cashless financial transactions.
I was recently unable to gain access to my mobile phone account. I do this from home as I keep a copy of my paperless bill. On complaining to the company they could offer no alternative and suggested that I send my wife out with the mobile phone to where she could get reception. When the code came through she could phone me on my landline and give me the code so that I could enter it. Totally impracticable when we are both over 75 and it’s pitch black and icy outside as it was that evening.
Cash is very often the only way people without mobiles or mobile phone reception can pay. For example we have a fish van which comes to our door. How do I pay him. Maybe I could give him a cheque, if we still have them, or perhaps I could barter with the vegetables I grow.
One bright spot however is TSB who, when they need to send a code, offer the option of it being sent to my registered mobile number or my landline. Guess which one I choose?

r.woslek says:
8 March 2019

Cash is king in my book I just don’t see a card as a viable option compared to money in your hand.

I still carry a small amount of cash for contingencies.

Putting coins into a parking meter is still my preferred way of using paid-for car parks.

Otherwise, it has been a few weeks since I last had to pay for anything with cash.

I get that a lot of the posters above don’t want to give up cash. That said, I’m not seeing their accounts of why they don’t want to use other means as compelling demonstrations of the impossibility of those means.

Personally, as cash has been around for thousands of years, I don’t think it is about to disappear completely, but its use may become far less commonplace, as has already happened with the use of cheques or travellers cheques by consumers.

We had the need for cash a few nights ago when we ordered a take-away before realising the car wouldn’t start. Although they don’t normally do home-delivery, our local curry house very kindly delivered our food but required cash at the door. Luckily we had some.

Good example, Alfa. We had a car like that once.

I can’t imagine not having a reserve supply of cash indoors for such a contingency. It doesn’t take long to accumulate an emergency pot of money. Also, no more unexpected carol singer embarrassment syndrome.

Wendy says:
9 March 2019

I use cash still and would not want to see it disappear. Also, it is the easiest way in which to budget.

John Drake says:
9 March 2019

I agree that we should pressurise the government to ensure that we keep cash. Otherwise we will have to return to the historical regime of simply bartering for goods, especially when the bank’s computers go down!

G Taylor says:
9 March 2019

The less cash we use the more government knows what we are doing by tracking credit card payments.
Cash is a means of people keeping their independence of state control and efforts to abandon cash
should be resisted

Given the banks inability to save customers from fraud or are very slow to compensate[ where they are prepared to do so ] where there is no cash how can we survive for daily living ?

John Butler says:
10 March 2019

Owing to the security risk with debit. And Credit cards . I am paying more than ever with cash for daily transactions to avoid this risk. Only when it is unavoidable Will I use a card. Long live our cash based society.

Robert Taylor says:
11 March 2019

Cash is an essential component of our monetary system. Using cash is a key element of the basic freedoms of modern life. Many people prefer the independence and flexibility of being able to pay for goods and services in this way.

Thomas Sutton says:
11 March 2019

Cashless means everything you buy, where you go and what you do can be monitored. You may say that you have nothing to hide but big brother may disagree.

But if even if you only pay by cash, you can still be tracked via monitoring of your mobile phone’s cell locations and by surveillance cameras equipped with ANPR or facial recognition software.

Maureen says:
11 March 2019

Strangely, I think that cash can be more safe for you personally. To have your purse or wallet stolen with a credit or debit card inside means that the thief will have instant access to buying items online with the card details, up to £30.00 cashless payments when buying and all without the need for your PIN.
For example, if you are mugged for your purse or wallet and you do not have any debit or credit cards in them, then the amount of your loss is only the cash in your purse or wallet.
Don’t you think in this day of more and more personal attacks and theft that to let the thief have only your cash is better than them gaining the use of your debit or credit card, which could run into hundreds of pounds’ loss???

Strange indeed, see:


Which shows that one’s maximum liability ought not to exceed £50 per card.

Also, if the data here are correct:


Then carrying my cards with me will be safer than leaving them at home, where they’d be exposed to much greater risk from burglaries.