/ Money

Banks must commit to maintaining cash: my open letter

We’re urging the UK’s eight largest retail banks to publicly commit to maintaining cash. This is my open letter to each of them explaining why.


FAO: HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, NatWest, Santander UK, Barclays, TSB, Halifax.

In recent years we have seen seismic changes in retail banking and the UK’s cash infrastructure. The innovation that has allowed millions of consumers to enjoy the convenience of contactless payments and 24/7 access to their bank account via the mobile phone in their pocket has benefitted many. 

It is clear, however, that cash is still an important lifeline for millions of people across the UK, with our latest research finding 10 million people are not ready or able to give it up. As you will be aware from your own customers, many older or more vulnerable people rely on cash as a means of budgeting or managing payments.

Worryingly, COVID-19 has placed unprecedented strain on the cash system that was already perilously close to collapse.  

We welcome the industry, regulators and government reaching consensus to take action on the UK’s slide towards a cashless society that risks financially excluding these people – culminating in the Chancellor’s commitment in the 2020 Budget to legislation.

However, a year on, there is a very real risk that the cash network could fail before legislation arrives, with many ATMs and bank branches continuing to close across the UK without clear assurance that the changes truly meet the needs of consumers. 

This can be easily prevented. There is a real opportunity to guarantee the stability of the existing network while discussions around legislation continue. In particular, major banks can continue to support  the ATM and Post Office banking networks, which are critical to protecting current provision of cash withdrawal and basic banking services for millions of people across the UK.

The collapse of these networks will make it extremely difficult and, in some cases impossible, to reintroduce access to cash in some communities. 

Urgent steps must be taken to ensure that irreversible damage is not caused to the cash system until longer term protections are agreed. As such Which? is calling on the UK’s eight largest retail banks to publicly agree to: 

Continued membership of LINK, until legislation is passed and until a framework to protect access to cash has been implemented. This will ensure that both the Financial Inclusion and Protected ATM programmes will remain in place and will also guarantee the existence of LINK in the interim.

Continued membership of the Post Office Banking Framework, until legislation is passed and until a framework to protect access to cash has been implemented. This will ensure that the Post Office remains a viable back-up for communities that continue to lose ATMs and physical bank branches. It is clear that there is a large role for the Post Office to play in securing future access to cash, particularly in rural areas. As such, the Banking Framework must have guaranteed support and buy-in from industry until a long-term solution is in place.

These measures are not the antidote to all of the issues with the cash system, but they are critically important to secure the existing infrastructure in the interim.

The industry undoubtedly has an important role to play in developing a framework for a responsible and sustainably managed transition to digital and I urge you to recognise that banks’ individual commercial decisions can have a profound impact on the wider cash ecosystem. 

Your public commitment to both the Post Office and LINK will bring much needed stability to the cash system while long-term solutions are put in place. I look forward to receiving your responses in the next two weeks

Yours sincerely, 

Anabel Hoult.

05/02/2021: Update


Cash is king, Credit cards are not, this leads to escalating dept. learning to live within our means is a lesson we should Heed.

Credit cards do not lead to escalating debt if they are used purely as a means of payment and not as a means of borrowing, similar to how a charge card must be used. As Martin Lewis often says very vocally, you should always pay your credit card bill “IN FULL“!

I have used credit cards for all my card expenditure since I was 18, and have never paid interest. It is madness not to pay one’s bill in full every month. If one needs to borrow money, there are plenty of better options. A credit card, used wisely, is an excellent means of payment, not least in view of the substantial rewards that one receives, which have funded many of my business class and first class flights around the world.

I agree about the way to use credit cards. I pay mine every month also plus the statement of all my purchases (and occasional refunds) is invaluable when I come to balance accounts on MS Money. This also provides a useful record of when something was bought – if it develops a fault or if you want to reorder for example.

However, like BNPL, credit cards can tempt people into buying more than they intend, and more than they can afford, because you can “spread” the payments well into the future. But if you can’t afford it, the future won’t help, particularly as the very high interest charges begin to rack up. £1.5bn of written off credit card debt in the UK in 2018; I hope I have the correct figure.

Mine are paid by direct debit. I presume that credit card interest rates are so high is because of the period of interest free credit, companies writing off debts, making S75 refunds and paying for credit card perks.

I avoid using direct debit as much as possible, especially for paying my UK credit cards. I do use it to pay my German and US credit cards though – in Germany because that’s the norm and card issuers won’t accept manual payments, and in the US because there is a negative delay between the date that the payment is taken from my bank account and the date that it is credited to my card account.

Absolutely agree. I prefer to pay by cash, but I don’t have big bills to pay

I agree with NHF. But I shall also mention the ‘warranty’ element. Simply put, get screwed with cash and you are on your own: get screwed when using a CC, then you have CC protection for any purchases from £100 – £30,000 (section 7 and the Consumer Credit Act).
Go on a £5,000 holiday, pay just £100 on a Credit Card as a deposit and you are covered for up to the full £30,000, even if you only paid £100 on the card.

Lucy says:
2 February 2021

I’m fortunate enough to have options including a mobile phone & access to the internet. Whilst I choose not to pay for anything via my mobile, my main concern is that there can be an assumption that everyone has a phone or a computer enabling them to do banking. In certain demographics, if the banks (for general banking), their own cash machines (for cash/deposits) or any other cash machines (cash only) aren’t availble, these people are going to really struggle. They’re going to have to travel further at more cost just to get access to their own money.

My particularly large demographic, born in the 1945-50 period, are now advancing into later life and, whereas many of us are more or less keeping up with new technology and new ways of doing things, I cannot see this continuing into old age where other health and lifestyle factors will inhibit the aptitude to do so. The expense could become prohibitive to start with and the decline in mental [or cognitive] acuity could become a problem for many. Some of us, but not all by any means, will have nearby relatives who can probably assist or do things on-line for us, but I find the future rather worrying as the assumption grows that everyone in the country is able to operate via the internet and where alternatives, like a physical presence or a competent telephone response, are disappearing rapidly.

Last week we called on the eight largest banks to confirm their commitment to the cash system, by guaranteeing membership of LINK and the Post Office Banking Framework until legislation protecting access is introduced.

As Anabel explains above, these two schemes are critical to the provision of access to cash and basic banking services for consumers and if one of the banks we wrote to were to leave, both would be in jeopardy, leaving many at risk of being cut off from society.

One week on, we wanted to thank the two banks that have – so far – responded to our calls, confirming their commitment to both schemes and in doing so, pledging their support to #ProtectCash for the millions of people in the UK who rely on it.

However, we’re still facing a cash crisis unless all banks unite together.

With one week left to respond, we encourage others to take this opportunity to protect the cash system and cash dependent consumers.

Camilla, thanks for the update. Let’s hope that the remaining six banks follow the lead of the first two.

As this (and related) conversations have shown, many consumers still value the option of paying by cash, while for some transactions or for some consumers, there are no viable alternatives.

They should be giving us a service not us pleading with them too. Why should people suffer because they dont want to give this service .If the other Banks dont agree to cash being king do the walk we all cash does the talk

Is there a case of charging bank customers for the services that they use?

I suggest avoiding a system like in Germany where the norm is to pay account maintenance fees for even the most basic current accounts. Equally I suggest avoiding a system like in France where cheques are processed for free but debit cards incur a hefty annual fee.

Banks make money out of processing debit card payments, but they incur costs for providing cash withdrawals and processing cheques. Therefore is there a case for UK banks to charge for cash withdrawals and for processing cheques? This would ensure that those who need these services would fund them instead of being subsidised by those who never use them via lower interest rates and 3% non-GBP card fees.

While the costs of operating cash machines remain static, the number of withdrawals decreases and so the average cost to the banks of each withdrawal increases. I realise that many consumers will not want to give up the ability to make cash withdrawals for free, but if some bank customers are so insistent on using cash, shouldn’t they contribute more directly towards the operating costs of the cash machines that they choose to use?

I think there is a case for banks charging for their private customer services. So we could pay for what we use. I suspect many would resist that but we do, of course, pay for them indirectly through high overdraft charges, interest on mortgages and other loans, for example; nothing is free. Post offices offer basic banking services and these could be charged back via the customers bank, or we could leave some services not charged, but then they would be subsidised by someone else.

One problem I expect to see raised is that we have all, for many years, been made to rely on banks as repositories and handlers of our money from employment and benefits for example. Some see in view of this it is their right to have the banks deal with them for free; but who do they expect to pay for all the bank infrastructure and staff necessary to do this? Someone else? Out of profits – that impacts interest rates for example so some will pay more in loans? It needs funding from somewhere. Just as purchases cost everyone a little more because retailers have to pay credit card fees.

Most free-to-use ATM transactions are paid for by the banks. Should not those who use them pay a fee for their provision and maintenance? Or should we all contribute to the costs? Many would have the choice of making, say, one monthly withdrawal and avoiding multiple fees. The convenience of many ATMs is that it avoids a trip to a bank or post office, incurring travelling costs and parking perhaps, so they can be seen as saving people money? Even a pay-to-use charge can be offset against maybe £2 or £3 travel cost, but I doubt many would see it that way.

I am not proposing any of these measures but we do have to understand that costs are involved and must be recovered from somewhere. then decide the best system that is fair to all, and helps the vulnerable to boot.

We must keep cash no matter what – we must stick together on this – Which have recently highlighted examples where shops card facilities have gone down, thus cash being vital. If cash disappears it’s gone forever and we have no idea what may come further down the track. Cash, cards and cheques have always worked well together. As the saying goes….. if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Don’t particularly see a cash crisis however, I can see a cap on the amount of credit you can hold in a current account. Anything more, and you will have to pay for the privilege. Where are you going to put your short term savings if and when we move into negative interest rates?

In respect of negative interest rates in the Eurozone, banks typically charge a fee only for balances above €100k. So the simple answer is to hold balances in multiple banks to avoid exceeding €100k in any one bank. One should always do this anyway because €100k is also the deposit protection limit, which is translated to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme’s £85k limit in the UK. Otherwise get a fixed-rate fixed-term deposit.

I’m hoping loans will be made available with negative interest rates. 😀

A recent letter to the letters page of the Daily Mail cites a case of a small hardware shop who felt they had to accept card payments due to the pandemic. The fees stated for phone and transaction fees come to £700 per month. I know nothing about running a business, however this seems pretty steep to me. I wonder what they might have been when cards were less widely used. It would seem to me that if we go cashless, this would surely put small businesses in a much more vulnerable position.

There is a delicatessen several miles from home that I use from time to time. A few months ago the card machine went down. More recently an assistant said – very politely – your paying the old fashioned way, meaning cash. I mentioned the time the machine went down and she said. ” It happens regularly due to constant use”. So how much does it cost to sort that out? And what happens if cash disappears?

Strapped for cash: Which? calls for urgent government action to protect cash users
26 February 2021
”Which? is pushing for the government to take immediate action to protect the future of cash for those who need it, as its latest analysis shows a spike in the number of people forced to pay to withdraw their own money from cash machines.

The research shows that some parliamentary constituencies – among them some of England’s most deprived areas, where people are more likely to depend on cash – have seen a significant shift from free-to-use cashpoints to machines that generally charge up to £2 per withdrawal in recent years……..

…………Since 2018, two Birmingham constituencies – Hall Green and Hodge Hill – have seen 44 and 40 per cent reductions in free-to-use ATMs respectively, but both had a 59 per cent increase in pay-to-use machines.

What matters is not how many ATMs there are, but how far apart they are. LINK are committed to ensuring that when a free-to-use ATM is removed there is another free source of cash within 1km.

In the past, when this sort of complaint has been made, a look at LINK’s ATM map ( that shows all ATMs, free and pay) has shown that, while the proportion of pay ATMs may have increased the distribution of ftu with the 1km proviso seems to have been maintained.

I would just like to know this has been considered when making this type of headline.

If we don’t use ATMs as much their provision will continue to decline. We need to think creatively about how we keep access to cash and make it far more convenient to many more people who do not have, and never have had, a nearby ATM or post office. I hope the trial allowing cash businesses to dispense cash without a purchase is successfully rolled out nationwide to places large and small.

There is more detail here https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/02/which-calls-for-urgent-government-action-to-protect-access-to-cash/ but, again, no distribution data or LINK maps. Has the 1km maximum to another ATM been maintained when one has been removed?

Under the heading “Has there been any progress over the past year?” no mention is made of the Access to Cash trials that are in progress and that could make a huge difference to many people if successful.

We need to see the whole picture, not fixate on one element that is not sustainable.

Part of a press release I received by email:
“Which? comments amid reports Rishi Sunak is backing away from cash legislation
2 March 2021
Gareth Shaw, Which? Head of Money, said:

“It is deeply concerning to hear the government could be wavering in its commitment to legislation to protect access to cash. Rishi Sunak’s promise at last year’s Budget gave hope to millions of people and to communities around the UK that rely on cash and would struggle to get by without it.

I only saw snippets of the budget. Did the Chancellor waver in this way or is it just scaremongering? I’m not sure of the point of putting out such a piece when, by waiting one day, the facts would be known.

@gmartin Hello George. Further to my post above ” Which? comments amid reports Rishi Sunak is backing away from cash legislation” can Which? tell me where in the budget this has been confirmed?

My understanding is that there was no specific cash legislation in the Budget outside of the increase to the contactless spending limit.

So the next obvious question is, where and from whom did Gareth Shaw hear that “the government could be wavering in its commitment to legislation to protect access to cash”. I haven’t seen such speculation in any other media. In its budget reporting this morning my newspaper actually reiterated the government’s pledge to protect access to cash even though it was not referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

@gmartin, thanks George. Why, then, did Which? issue this press release, apparently without foundation, just a day before the budget that would have properly informed us.

I think this kind of speculative scaremongering, if that is what it was, is something a respected consumers’ association should not indulge in. Apart from being misleading it can be seen as an attempt to denigrate the government and a political gesture, something I believe is outside the CA’s remit.

Cash legislation is an anathema to the financial and banking industry.

The rise of Fintech companies, used to support or enable banking services to innovate and update are here to stay. The genie is out of the bottle and no bank is in a position to make a firm commitment to retain access to cash indefinitely, when it has no way of knowing where new innovative technology will take them in the future. They can only speculate, which prevents them from engaging in any assurances or commitment to do away with cash completely at this moment in time.

I would add that living without access to cash is not something I look forward to, but if continuing technological innovation and advancement enables banks to increase their profit margins, competition will dictate, they will acquiesce or cease to exist. In the financial business world it called progress.

I doubt this is in the hands of banks or other Fintech companies. It is a government matter. We, as consumers, have quite rightly embraced other means to pay than cash. You could argue going back years that cheques, direct debits, credit cards, all reduced our dependence upon cash. That has simply evolved further as technology developed and I, for one, am very happy to be able to make many payments at any time of the day or night without cash.

However, very many people have very many reasons to still use, and want to continue using, cash for certain transactions. The government committed to retaining cash and access to it. Trials are ongoing to make access to cash far easier for many more people than can at present.

The trouble is, in my view, that in a well-intentioned effort to keep access to cash in front of us Which? resort to misleading and scaremongering tactics that then cause the concerns you describe. I think they should stick to a fact-based, objective and constructive approach.

That is my personal view and I hope I won’t be proven wrong. 🙂

You or can’t hold back progress Malcolm, neither can government in a global financial market, and the older you get the harder and more frustrating it is to adjust to it.

Most young people I know adapt more quickly to change than people my age, and we can only speculate about what access to personal finances will look like in 20 years time when today’s young become tomorrow’s senior citizens,

The continuing technological innovative acceleration taking place at present is hard to keep up with and I admit to struggling with it on a daily basis, but I know without it I could not continue to live independently and the alternative is not something I particularly relish.

I’m obviously not responsible for the press release but my understanding is as follows:

The report mentioned that Gareth commented on was this one in The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/no-guarantee-of-free-cash-machines-qnn7nf6wn

It includes the following: “Sunak’s comments add to fears that the Treasury is not planning to legislate to ensure cash remains accessible across the country, despite pledging to do so in the budget last year.”

As we later found out from the Budget itself, no legislation to protect cash was brought forward.

It’s been explained before that press lines are issued to journalists and media in order for them to be able to feature Which?’s position alongside the latest news. With The Times reporting that cash legislation was not set to be included (which it wasn’t), Gareth’s line informs the Which? view on that report.

There could come a point when the use of cash dwindles to a level that is not sustainable practically or economically – but that is not in the foreseeable future. For the time being the demand for cash is strong and most forms of trading accept it.

Continuing to use cash in the hundreds of examples given in the various Conversations on the subject will not stand in the way of further innovation and technological progress in the banking industry. Who knows? – it might become possible for us to print our own cheques and banknotes for small transactions or postal orders [yes, they still exist].

Children grow up using cash and also adapt in due course to using bank facilities as well. Just as we don’t know what access to personal finance will look like in twenty years’ time, we don’t know what confidence the public will have in the banking industry to protect their funds and provide the support they need in twenty years’ time.

We do not have to be dictated to by the banks on whether access to cash remains essential. Banks operate under a banking licence from the Bank of England and so long as they hold their licence they have to collaborate and participate in the financial mechanisms required to enable monetary exchange and the settlement of financial transactions. If they want to continue to extend credit to impecunious people, as they do now in return for exorbitant interest, and to provide a range of other profitable financial services then they will have to continue to handle cash; it comes with the territory.

And for so long as cash has the great advantage of un-traceability a significant section of the community will keep it in circulation. That might be anathema to some but it lubricates the economy in parts other measures do not reach.

Thanks for the explanation, George.

Feeding off the speculation of others is a hazardous game and best avoided in my opinion.

So far as I am aware, no legislation is required at the moment to enable the continuation of cash and its accessibility, so claiming that the absence of a promise of legislation from the Extraordinary Budget yesterday is an indicator of government back-sliding is a specious argument.

The regular cycle of budgets has been disrupted over recent years due to Brexit negotiations, a general election, and this year the coronavirus epidemic. I assume that an ordinary Budget 2021 will take place in the Autumn alongside the normal Autumn Statement in order to get back to the new pattern that was intended in 2019.

We can continue to debate the inevitability of the demise of cash, which no doubt will assist in the grieving process at its loss; at the same time we can also appreciate its existing availability and hope its phasing out will be a gradual, slow and relatively painless process, to enable people to make use of whatever substitution replaces it.

That is where the focus should be at present and I don’t think blaming and shaming is a constructive way forward. Learning to adapt to the future and preparing ourselves for the unavoidable changes along the way Is where the emphasis should lie during this post Brexit period in time.

I cannot read the whole article but this seemed to refer to ATMs, not cash as a whole. It would surely be worth Which? researching an issue for themselves before issuing a secondhand press release.

The budget said nothing about the Chancellor wavering on protecting cash. I realise @gmartin George that you don’t write press releases and thanks for your response, but a Convo should be a way to get the experts within the Which? organisation to help on questions asked by Convo Contributors. However, there seems to be an almost complete reluctance to do this, apart from contributions from a very few like Legal and Kate.

In the Budget it was announced that the transaction limit is to be raised from £45 to £100, though it is less than a year since the limit was £30.

Please will all card issuers give their customers choose whether their card is contactless (not all do) and what transaction limit they wish.

Perhaps the transaction threshold should be raised to £50 below which cash must be used. That would keep it in circulation.

That’s a bit unlikely in 2021. We can choose how much cash we carry around and could risk losing or spending, so why not let individuals decide their contactless transaction limit to suit their circumstances?

I think that is a more acceptable arrangement than having the limit set by the government. I was quite content with a £30 contactless limit. I didn’t ask for a contactless debit card but since having one I have used it a few times, especially to avoid personal contact when spending and also to speed up transactions. I suppose that is why the limit rose to £45 during the lockdown. I think a £100 limit is too high and would prefer to set my own limits.

I have today arranged for the newspapers to be delivered every morning with payment by bank transfer every four weeks so that is another loss of cash in circulation, although it means putting more money into the Norwich economy as the delivery company is a local firm and previously I only bought a paper if I went into the city, which is a rare event nowadays, or with the grocery deliveries from Sainsbury’s but they have stopped supplying newspapers now.

It’s a matter of principle to me that the customer should be allowed to set their own limit for contactless payments and £30 would be fine for me. too, John. My bank provided me with a contactless debit card but were happy to provide a non-contactless one on request. Apparently businesses will be able to choose what limits to accept via contactless cards, so maybe someone will spare a thought for customers.

I have not been using cash since January last year. It was intended to be an experiment but the pandemic intervened and I’ve not been shopping since the first lockdown.

I presume you can choose to use your card in the conventional way and enter your PIN for any transaction, rather than use contactless if that is your wish? You can then set your own limits.

An increased contactless limit increases the cost of unauthorised use, Malcolm. I don’t want to have to fund costly refunds to customers.

I am well aware of that, wavechange. We need to look after our cards to prevent misuse. By all means try to get card issuers to allow personal limits to be set, just as we should be able to set maximum borrowing limits rather than have the card issuer do it for us. Overdraft limits have to be requested and agreed, don’t they? Mine was, anyway. I think we should also be able to set maximum daily bank transfer limits for more vulnerable customers to restrict what they might inadvertently lose.

For as long as I can remember there has been a good chance of recovering most or all of your money if a contactless card is lost or stolen: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/my-card-has-been-lost-or-stolen-and-used-to-purchase-goods One reason that I accepted a contactless card was that there was a good chance that my money would be protected, but as it happens I have not had a problem.

Maybe having a higher contactless limit will make people more careful, otherwise it could mean that you and I end up refunding more money to those have been unfortunate or careless.

Like the banks having to pay out if someone has been careless and opened themselves up to fraud?

If someone loses their card or has it stolen there they probably have not taken sufficient care, yet people are apparently receiving refunds unless they are ‘grossly negligent’. I thought this might be temporary to give card users confidence that their funds would be protected, but now few people seem concerned that they are funding other people’s carelessness.

Fraud can be very complex and we do not get to know how the banks decide what if any money should be returned to the victim. Each case will be different but perhaps we deserve to know how our money is being used in these cases. I would like to see the banks doing more to prevent fraudsters acquiring accounts and card services.

In the last decade, I have lost cards through carelessness every few years and, in 2019, I was also pickpocketed in Paris and had two cards stolen then.

I usually notice a missing card almost immediately and cancel them forthwith.

If I did have to carry any personal financial liability for lost cards, then I would prefer not to have contactless cards.

Losing cash – or having it stolen – probably maximises one’s personal financial liability and minimises our banks’ liabilities. So we can score this last one up as another reason why the banks should maintain access to cash.

I managed to lose my wallet with a contactless credit card and between £80 and £100, several years ago. I did not realise for days. I contacted the card issuer immediately and learned that the card had not been used, but I did lose the money.

Here’s a new supermarket that most likely will not take cash:-https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-56266494

I wonder if, 10 or 20 years from now, Which? will be campaigning for shops to retain checkouts?

I wonder what you do if it overcharges, or is the technology so foolproof? I can understand why this might be attractive to shoppers by avoiding checkouts, particularly the queues at busy times. Interesting that amazon give a reason that it saves the increasing cost of deliveries – but it involves the cost of a town centre premises and requires smaller delivery journeys to be made to it than to a central hub. So maybe not so good for the environment?

Personally, I much prefer to visit a shop for food than trawl through pages online. I get inspiration from seeing what is on offer and at the same time keep contact with other human beings. An exception might be buying ready meals from a decent source – whether for delivery or collection. I’ve found Cook to be a very good quality source and at sensible prices to stock the freezer.

Malcolm, potential overcharging is an interesting question.

The BBC new article suggests that the shop will monitor the position of each shopper and, presumably also, the movement off goods off the shelves. That begs the question of who to charge, if two different shoppers are standing close together when goods are taken. I suppose no accompanying persons (e.g. children or chauffeurs) will be allowed, unless they are also admitted via an account bar code.

I’m sure Amazon will have developed technology for all this, but there could still be flaws waiting to emerge.

Perhaps Which? could send one of their reporters along to try out this store?

I guess this could put an end to complaints about queues at checkouts and others about having to scan your own groceries. I expect it will give us more time to post amusing anecdotes on Which? Conversation when the technology has had a hiccup.

No doubt cash will continue to be used in the UK, albeit in decreasing amounts, but there is commercial pressure to wean us away from cash and some rural areas have struggled for years, thanks to closure of bank branches and failure to relocate ATMs. It’s no help to tell them that there are many ATMs and Post Offices in the UK if these are not where they live.

It might be looking at how these customers have coped with loss of ATMs and Post Offices. Perhaps the rest of us could learn from their experiences.

Trials of alternative ways to get access to cash are in progress. One uses cash businesses to dispense cash without a purchase. If successful and rolled out across the UK it would enable almost everyone to have convenient access to cash, rather than just those living near an ATM, bank or post office.

A quarter of Northern Irish consumers have struggled to access cash during the pandemic according to Which?, fuelling fears that Covid is hastening the UK’s transition towards a cashless society before millions of people are ready.

A look at the LINK ATM map for Northern Ireland seems to show a good mix of free and pay to use ATMS. ATM use is declining everywhere, as is the use of bank branches. It is not about how many ATMs have been lost, or converted to pay to use, but the distribution of the remaining ATMs and cash outlets like post offices. LINK requires ATM closures to still leave a free ATM or PO within 1km, which seems reasonable.

It would be useful if Which? gave this information so a proper appreciation of cash access can be attained.

Mind you, new methods of accessing cash are under trial and could make its availability far more convenient to far more people. I hope using retailers and other cash businesses as dispensers without a purchase will prove successful.

Living in a rural area, where now increasingly the banks are closing branches , often you have no option but to use cash. Small business need cash and not to get charged for people using bank cards. Then , if you are able to have a bank account , you cannot easily get to a branch to deal in person. This makes you more vunerable to scams especially where we have poor internet and phone quality and you may have times when you have no connection at all, which means you can be targeted and not know about it for possibly hours. Being able to get into a local branch easily is very important and can be a guard against scams. In my own bank and building society, they know me in person. I am careful to alert them if I intend to use my account in an unusual way. for example I was part exchanging my car, and mentioned it to the staff that within the next 2 weeks I expected to be changing the car and so might pay quite a large sum out either with my card or possibly coming in to withdraw a large amount. Because I am known personally to the staff and have been going there for more than 10 years, they are obviously aware of what I look like and my habits, and would immediately notice strange or unusual behaviour on the account. This is a two way relationship. When my husband died, of course I was extremely sad and upset , and this is where you can be extremely vunerable. I was offered, and accepted, a check on my usage of my account and was reassured that if anything looked wrong they would contact me. We did this for 6 months, and as I live alone and my family are quite a long way away I felt both pleased for the support and could see that I was beginning to cope when I was happy to cancel this. Large banks now seem to run the system to suit themselves. I am reasonably internet savvy, but do not want to reveal my bank details on the internet at all. If I am aware of a larger than normal need to pay things, I still much prefer to get cash out over a couple of days and then I am able to pay the bill but not give my details to anyone I do not want to trust. I will never let waiters take my card away to pay a bill and insist that they bring the machine to the table or that I will pay on the way out. It is such an easy way for you to be ripped off in some way when you lose sight of your card. Obviously it is different with very local restaurants. They are hardly likely to do anything when you can walk back in and demand to be told what has happened to your account, with a room full of diners. Not that I have ever had to do that.

…….Banks look set to continue to make these changes without having put in place suitable alternatives, and despite the regulator asking firms to reconsider branch closures during lockdown. The government must urgently set out its plans for introducing legislation protecting access to cash”

From listening to the interview with Santander’s deputy CEO this morning I was under the impression that the bank branch closures were taking place where there were post offices available to give access to cash, among other services. If that were true then access to cash would not be the issue to raise here, would it? ” But the bank said the majority of closing branches were within three miles of another Santander branch. The furthest is five miles, it said.
“All are within half a mile of at least two free-to-use ATMs and one mile of the nearest Post Office,” it added.

Maybe Which? could give a more balanced report on these matters?

We know that individual bank branches are becoming less viable as we, the customers, have largely chosen other ways of banking. So rather then emulating King Canute we surely need to look at constructive alternatives for the future. “Shared” branches have been proposed, of which 11000+ post offices are an example. Trials are in progress to see how cash businesses – shops for example – nationwide can dispense cash without purchase now we have left the restrictions imposed by the EC.
We need to look forward, not backwards.

Which? have pursued the protection of ATMS as their solution to protecting access to cash. I have expressed two main views on this approach.
First, our use of ATMs has declined substantially and the viability of so many free to use ones is under question in the numbers that were provided, many in clusters. As the parliamentary report points out, despite the reduction most people who were close to an ATM still are, and the vast majority of the others are only no more than 250m further away.
Second, this approach only favours those who were already conveniently near an ATM. It ignores the need of those many people who have never lived close to an ATM yet still need access to cash.

For a long time I have suggested that businesses that take in cash – pubs, shops, restaurants, cafes, garden centres etc – could also dispense it without a purchase. It would benefit far more people if implemented UK wide and also would benefit businesses in reducing their need and cost to bank cash. This was then mentioned in the Access to Cash report but has never, to my recollection, been taken up by Which?

At long last, given the parliamentary report, Which? seem to have opened their mind to a more progressive approach. I hope the trials prove successful, are supported by businesses and are rolled out UK wide.

Can cashback without a purchase solve the access to cash crisis?
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/04/can-cashback-without-a-purchase-solve-the-access-to-cash-crisis/

”Which? comments on House of Lords report on banks’ duty of care to customers