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Thousands are reporting the spread of cash refusal

New Which? insight has shown that thousands of people have been prevented from paying with cash in recent months. Have you been affected?

Last month we launched a simple tool for people to tell us about times when they’ve experienced difficulties paying with cash, in light of concerns that an increasing number of shops have started to refuse cash since the pandemic’s outbreak. 

The results are in, while not nationally representative, they do suggest a problem with cash acceptance across the UK. 

You’ve alerted us to thousands of instances where cash has been refused, whether it be when buying essential items such as groceries and medicine, to parking to simply buying a coffee or going out to eat. 

What’s more, while some people were able to go to another shop to buy the product with cash or use another payment method, a large proportion of people were unable to buy the item at all because cash was their only option. 

Leaving empty handed

Worryingly, of those who responded – all of whom had experienced difficulties paying for things with cash – four in ten people were forced to leave a shop empty handed when trying to pay for groceries, while the figure stood at almost two in ten for those attempting to purchase medicine.

While some people claimed the experience resulted in nothing more than wasted time, we heard from many who expressed serious fears of being unable to cope or losing independence if further lockdown restrictions made shopping and paying with cash more of a challenge.

You spoke of feeling embarrassed or patronised when shops refused to serve them, and raised concerns that coronavirus was being used as an excuse to “get rid” of cash.

No consumer, regardless of what payment method they have available to them, should be shut out from buying the things they need to get buy – especially during the current crisis. 

A worrying trend

We’re concerned that these personal experiences might point to a greater problem. If left unaddressed, this worrying trend of cash refusal will be allowed to continue unabated, leaving millions at risk of financial exclusion. 

The government made a commitment to introducing legislation protecting access to cash in March 2020, but what’s the point in being able to access cash if you have no where to spend it?

Further work is needed to understand the scale and pace of change on cash acceptance.

As part of it’s work on cash, the Financial Conduct Authority must urgently improve it’s knowledge of issues affecting cash acceptance, including the impact cash refusal has on consumers.

Collecting national data on the problem will allow the regulator to establish what, if any, action is needed to make sure people can continue to pay their way.

Have you been affected by the sweeping spread of cash refusal? Continue sharing your stories with us.


I believe that the small minority of consumers who prefer to pay by cash should be able to continue doing so for essential goods at large retailers. But I more strongly believe that all consumers should be able to pay by card at all retail businesses. The upside of the COVID-19 inspired cashless trend is that the minority of small retail businesses such as car washes who previously refused cards are now accepting cards. Refusing cards will thankfully become a thing of the past.

It is not a small minority, of course, who use cash, even in small amounts. I pay for the lottery in cash (hoping for a large amount in return) and paid my £2 for a session of bowls this morning. Many people have posted here on when and why the want to, or need to, use cash. It is not an either or debate in my view; cash will be with us for the foreseeable future.

I too suspect people are afraid of picking up the virus from cash; much will have been in pockets with hankies, for example, and touched by people with unclean hands. I suspect copper-plated coins may well destroy the virus but they are rare. It presumably lasts longer on “silver” and plastic.https://www.ft.com/content/fa83f563-0d5d-442f-9026-552d41e49c41
Maybe it is overkill but the way the virus spreads, and the fertile weather conditions now with us, taking excessive precautions is no bad thing.

I don’t know anyone who still uses cash except my parents’ generation. In London, it has become a thing of the past. It is a very small minority who still use cash. Where London leads, the rest of the country follows. There is no need to pay for the lottery in cash. Tickets can be bought online or with a card at points of sale.

Most children I know will happily use cash – at least round here, they don’t all have debit cards and smartphones.

It’s an odd position to advocate the removal of a useful and much appreciated facility in a consumer-oriented context.

For some functions there is no choice and it would be dangerous if some people decided to drive on the right, but whether or not people use cash is just a matter of personal freedom that hardly affects anyone else.

I think the long running Convo has shown there are many ways that cash is still used and favoured, is the only option in some cases, and is supported by very many people. It’s use has certainly declined and it is used for smaller value transactions but is still a significant method of payment.

We must not be London-centric. Other parts of the country have minds of their own.

It’s not about being London-centric, but recognising that things tend to happen in London before the rest of the UK follows. This is true not only of good stuff like adoption of new technology, but also bad stuff like the first wave of COVID-19. It’s just the way things happen. London leads; the rest of the country follows.

Not in the general election. 🙁

I look forward to the day when businesses and services are more sensibly spread around the country, to reduce the demand on services and transport in London. I would hope that a culture of working from home might persist in some enterprises. But principally I would like to see government bodies move out – surely now sensible with modern communications – and government provide incentives to other organisations to relocate – perhaps along the HS2 corridor (if it added more stops).

Access to cash initiatives are being trialled, currently, in nine pilot communities: Ampthill in Bedfordshire, Botton Village in North Yorkshire, Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent, Cambuslang in Lanarkshire, Denny in Falkirk, Hay-on-Wye in Powys, army barracks Lulworth Camp in Dorset, Rochford in Essex and Milisle in Northern Ireland. If successful they will be rolled out across the country and no doubt many Londoners will take up the trend. 🙂

I have not been using shops etc since mid-March, so I have not been using cash. I started to use mobile banking in January and that has proved much more convenient than online banking, allowing me to pay individuals if I have paid them before or I can remember their account details. I have also used cheques to pay tradesmen that requested payment in this way.

I remain to be convinced that there is a significant risk of contracting coronavirus as a result of handling cash. On the other hand it is well established that being close to other people indoors is a significant risk. Perhaps traders should consider the amount they are losing by not accepting cash.

Recent reports suggest that the virus can remain on surfaces for up to 28 days in lab conditions. It can survive on cash for a considerable shorter time. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-54500673

The fact that the virus can survive on surfaces does not mean that there is a risk of infection from touching them. On the other hand we know that inhalation of water droplets containing virus particles does cause infection, hence the need for social distancing, particularly indoors. Washing hands as advised is also a sensible precaution.

While inhalation of virus on droplets seems the main way of spreading COVID there is also a risk from touching contaminated surfaces and then touching eyes or mouth. Hence the advice to use sanitiser and wash hands thoroughly. We don’t want to dilute the precautions we are advised to take. Relaxation is one reason for the current surge.

I agree with the current advice but am concerned that coronavirus is being used as a reason to avoid accepting cash without any evidence that there is a significant risk of infection.

Wavechange, there is evidence of a significant risk of infection from cash:


Survival rates of SARS-CoV-2 were determined at different temperatures and D-values, Z-values and half-life were calculated. We obtained half lives of between 1.7 and 2.7 days at 20 °C, reducing to a few hours when temperature was elevated to 40 °C. With initial viral loads broadly equivalent to the highest titres excreted by infectious patients, viable virus was isolated for up to 28 days at 20 °C from common surfaces such as glass, stainless steel and both paper and polymer banknotes. Conversely, infectious virus survived less than 24 h at 40 °C on some surfaces.

I don’t doubt that coronavirus can survive on surfaces including banknotes but that does not mean that sufficient virus particles will be transferred to a person and then enter their body via mucous membranes in nose, mouth or eyes.

The concept of an infectious dose is well understood in relation to pathogenic bacteria. What it means is that our bodies can cope with smaller numbers of bacteria before succumbing to an infection. It is essential to our survival since our skin and even the cleanest home are teeming with bacteria. Children often put objects in their mouths but manage to survive and contact with bacteria helps them develop their immune system.

There must be many elderly and disabled people who are not venturing out of their homes at present yet paying cash to friends and neighbours for collecting shopping. If there was a real risk of infection from handling cash, letters and parcels I expect that this would be common knowledge.

I think there is a potentially misleading statistic in the introduction. “Worryingly, of those who responded, four in ten people were forced to leave a shop empty handed when trying to pay for groceries, while the figure stood at almost two in ten for those attempting to purchase medicine.
I don’t think Which? mean to imply that 40% of shoppers were unable to buy groceries. The sample of respondents was only those, I believe, who had experienced a problem using cash, so in their case 40% had the problem when buying groceries. “Nearly 2,500 people responded to the consumer champion’s cash acceptance tool, launched in mid-September, which asked people to report their payment problems. “.

To extrapolate to “We’re concerned that these results are the tip of the iceberg and that, unaddressed, this worrying trend of cash refusal will be allowed to continue unabated, leaving millions at risk of financial exclusion.” is, at this stage, I suggest a step too far. I imagine much of the current issue is traders being ultra-cautious in their COVID precautions.

@ceason, thanks Camilla! 🙂

Here in Grantham we haven’t so far been forced to pay by card. Back in December I saw the news reports from China and had a premonition of trouble to come and expected we would be locked down by the end of the year and so I visited my bank and transferred some money into my second current account – just in case!

Since then I have used my plastic for most of my big shops and I find I am consistently spending more simply because I don’t have to match the cost of purchases with the cash in my pocket – even in the mind of this cynic, the relationship between money that can be touched, counted and divided between the bills and a plastic card is being lost. A person can’t slap a bit of plastic on a shop counter with the pride and attitude, “here is my money, I earned this and now I am giving it to you. Treat it with respect!”.

If that is happening unbidden in my head I can guarantee it is happening and has happened to countless others and I firmly believe when the relationship is lost between plastic and the real folding, clinking stuff it is dangerous for those individuals and for society. We have already seen the average personal credit card debt rise to levels no ordinary person could reasonably repay in a lifetime so instead of £billions being available to invest in business and industry at this important time it is tied up in conservatories, kitchens and holidays and stuff…

Some 20 years ago I was contacted by the Treasury asking me if I used cheques, which I did a lot. I asked why they were asking and was told they had plans to discontinue cheques and if there was sufficient demand to replace them with something like a cheque that could be used just like a cheque (double-Dutch if you like) and this from the people helping to run the country…
It seems to me, if cash has become so unpopular it should be replaced by something like cash that can be used just like cash that will be accepted down at the boot sale, garage sale or school jumble sale…

I don’t believe that when using cards typical consumers will be “consistently spending more simply because [they] don’t have to match the cost of purchases with the cash in [their] pocket“. A wise consumer keeps at least three months’ income in savings (if they can), and spends according to both their needs and the value for money of the goods and services available. Spending according to the amount of cash currently in one’s pocket or hand is the most foolish form of consumerism. If one takes the latter approach, then this is the real problem, not whether one uses cash or cards.

In any case, I also disagree that it is easier or quicker to ascertain one’s available funds by cash in one’s pocket, which has to be counted, rather than looking at one’s bank balance (for example on a mobile app), which gives an immediately-understandable total.

Given that I use a decent smartphone, I do find that my mobile banking app allows me to do a really good job of balancing income and expenditure throughout each month.

I get that many people would not choose to operare that way and may then fear the dissappearance of cash. As I see it, cash is necessary sometimes and is a valid consumer choice in many other situations.

I think that when we depended on cash in our wallet we thought more carefully before buying something on impulse – something we might like rather than need. Particularly something whose cost exceeded the cash we had to hand at the time.

However I do believe that a card encourages spending in a way that would be difficult with cash, and that is making online purchases. Easy to sit on the sofa when bored and browse sites, fancy something that catches your eye and “click”, it’s yours. Not paid for at the time, just added to your plastic overdraft. I expect many people come to regret some of this sofa spending when the monthly bill arrives.

I have for years (from when times were harder) kept a regular record of all my spending in little cash books and transferred them to MS Money. So I know the current state of my finances and bank accounts. I prepare an annual budget from this to see how outgoings and income match. It actually takes up little time. I doubt many people bother to do this and, in ignorance of their financial state, run into problems and 49.9% unarranged overdrafts (for example). Maybe Which?Money produce a tool to make this easy for people who want to bother and could offer it through social media?

Malcolm, I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one still using Microsoft Money. The last version was released in 2004, some 16 years ago. Yet many of us refuse to use the latest alternatives, most of which store one’s personal data in the cloud. “The cloud” simply means someone else’s computer somewhere else. I don’t store my data on someone else’s computer, only on my own computer. Therefore I continue to use Microsoft Money.

I assume the Sunset Edition, that I use and came out in 2010 I think, is still available to download free? It works on my Windows 10 PC. Before that I had used Money for Windows 95 on my laptop, from around 2006. I have found it very usable, covers all my financial tasks and produces decent reports. I have not seen it reviewed by Which? when they have looked at personal accounting software – I wonder why not.

I, too, do not want to store my sensitive data anywhere but at home.

@gmartin – George, perhaps you could ask why MS Money (assuming it is still free to download) is not mentioned by Which?.

I understand that Microsoft Money Sunset is intended for the United States only, that it cannot import MS Money files created in non-US versions and that it does not support multiple currencies. Therefore it is useless for those of us with bank accounts and credit cards denominated in multiple currencies. With the lack of support for mutliple currencies, it’s not even suitable for customers of Revolut for example. I still believe that the latest version for UK users is 2004.

It works fine for me in the UK and you can set any currency for any of the accounts. I have not got that need, however. As a comprehensive package for people with simple or more complex finances – bank accounts, credit cards, loans, investments, bills, incomes, payment reminders – it seems to do the job well. It may not suit everyone’s situation of course – it does not download share prices for example. But as a free package I think it would help a great many people keep track of their finances, something many would benefit from.

I suspect that the no cash movement is largely driven by considerations of “hygiene”, brought on by the incidence of Covid-19.

Yet I cannot tell you how many times in the past I have been frustrated by a small shopkeeper serving me cooked meat or cheese and (thankfully) wearing vinyl gloves, but who then goes on to accept my banknote with his/her gloved hand and proceeds to dole out the change. And on to the next customer please … .

Having been brought up in France, I am well used to the idea that shopkeepers do not handle cash at the same time as serving unwrapped foods. This is particarly so in butchers, “traiteurs” and “boulangeries”, which often have a dedicated desk/staff for making payments, or a machine that accepts notes and dispenses change, similar to self-service checkouts in UK supermarkets. Even in the smallest one-man bakery, notes and change are always placed in a glass dish, so there is no direct hand-to-hand contact involved.

I couple of years ago, I was particularly miffed by the attitude of one open-all-hours Scottish shopkeeper. I’m not racist by nature, so let’s just say Glaswegian or another Scots dialect was not his first language. I bought some milk and produced a £1 coin. He then proceeded to give change and held it out. I expected him to place it on the counter top. He proceeded to lecture me about “How rude” I was, by not offering my hand! I’m not sure what sort of cultural protocol I offended, but I suspect it has been quickly revoked in the current pandemic.

Personally, I am most comfortable with any kind of payment, whether by means of cash, chip-and-PIN or contactless that doesn’t involve hand-to-hand contact, particularly with those serving up my food.

Em, I think the UK is the odd one out here in not having small trays for coins or change at points of payment. In most European countries, except the UK and probably Ireland too, these small trays are extremely rare. It’s a cultural difference whereby the British are happy to hand coins directly from one hand to another, whereas in most European countries the custom is for the payer or payee to put the coins in a small tray. Of course, this cultural difference is becoming a moot point as developed countries move away from cash payments. Anyway, cultural differences or not, you were right to avoid hand-to-hand contact and to expect food handling and cash handling to be hygienically separated.

Threat of cash crash as one in three blocked from paying with notes and coins during pandemic


”In a survey of 2,000 people, 34 per cent reported being unable to pay with cash at least once when trying to buy something since March, when coronavirus restrictions were first introduced.”.

If one in three people had one problem paying with cash in the last 10 months (they don’t say when the survey finished) this does not seem a convincing argument and I don’t see “ The figures are highly concerning ” when I suspect the majority of the respondents had other ways to pay.

The government has told us repeatedly cash is being protected and trials are in progress that, if as successful as they seem, will be rolled out UK wide to make access to cash conveniently available to far more people than for a long time. I do not see scare stories such as this, with rather flimsy credentials, to be helpful

I really do not understand where Which? is heading with this one. Having the right to pay with cash gets us nowhere, because nobody – as far as I am aware – is obliged to sell anything to anyone, if the terms of the contract (including the means of payment) cannot be agreed upon.

I have an item for sale, you make me an offer in cash. I do not wish to accept in-store payments in cash, so I do not have to sell you the item if you do not like my terms, any more than I have to offer CoD (cash on delivery) for an item sent to your home.

Looks like English contract law will need to be revised before there can be any right to pay by cash.

Access to cash is another matter entirely and should not be conflated with meaningless statistics about peoples’ inability to pay for everything in cash.

My impression is that Which? uses the diminution of cash transactions, whether by our choice or by denial, as evidence that cash is under threat and will lead to further losses in ATMs, for example. I believe there is this link in the debate. In my view introducing cash issuing without a purchase at retailers UK wide will demonstrate that, while expensive and little used ATMs will be lost there will be far more points of access provided to ensure cash continues to have a future.

Isn’t Covid the main reason why people have a problem paying with cash at the moment? Some people just don’t want to take the chance of handling money that might be contaminated.

I bought a used car recently, after my previous was written off after a rear end shunt. Because Covid, I had to “click and collect” the car, so a swift and assured method of payment was needed. The dealer told me that cash was his least favourite option, because he incurs much higher bank charges when paying in cash. Debit or credit card payments were therefore preferred. I used the latter, just in case I might need the Section 75 protections.

I very much support the efforts of Which? in raising awareness of an issue that affects a significant number of consumers.

Under normal circumstances those that don’t have cards could avoid using companies that will not accept cash. Over the years the number of companies that will not accept cheques has declined, but that happened gradually. During the current pandemic a substantial number of retailers etc. have refused to accept cash payments. I’m not sure what I would do if I did not have a bank account or was not allowed to have one. How are these people supposed to pay if cash is not accepted?

I believe you are right alfa. The concern about contaminated cash may be misplaced but people play safe. Most of us by not going out will be making far more purchases remotely where cash cannot be used. I expect that once Covid is under control and restrictions relaxed we will see more cash transactions.

It is good for Which? to raise awareness of an issue but it should be done on a sound basis.

How are people supposed to pay for goods if they don’t have a bank account or are not allowed one? The fact that most of us can manage without cash does not help them.

I suspect that coronavirus has provided a convenient opportunity to cut down cash transactions for the reason that Derek has explained.

They will use cash, as in the past. I believe the current reticence because of possible infection will disappear when life returns to normal.

Many retailers and cash business will, I think, welcome the ability to dispense cash under the new proposals. This will avoid them having to bank cash regularly and thus avoid charges.

That does not help now, Malcolm. Which? has given us the example of a diabetic in urgent need of food and someone not being allowed to board a bus.

Although many of us could manage without cash we need to think about those who have currently no alternative.

…which is a far higher number than many might realise. On balance, I believe Which? is right to continue maintaining the pressure on Government by galvanising opinion in favour of ATM retention. Which? is, after all, a campaigning organisation.

We know that, some years ago, there was an attempt to enforce payments for every use of a cash machine so Which? is aware this could become a reality, given half a chance. Businesses and government have repeatedly demonstrated that, left to their own devices, they will move away from cash and towards card-only transactions. But there’s a sizeable number in society for whom cards and cheques are not viable options. Which? is right to highlight their plight (no poetry intended) and I support them fully in this endeavour. Now, if only they can get the log-in operations to work consistently and reliably…

Although many folk on pensions or benefits will have bank accounts for the receipt of those moneys, they are often prey to “unauthorised overdraft” situations which result in them owing money to their banks. When this happens, they can be forced to operate using only cash for any money that they can beg, scrounge or borrow. This is because any money sent to their bank accounts just disappears against their overdraft and so does not become available for their immediate use.

While many retailers might welcome the opportunity to dispense cash without a purchase being required [or as cashback with a purchase] this cannot be taken for granted at this stage, and in any case the rate of ATM withdrawal could outpace the rise in the number of retail outlets offering the cash service.

Some tills might not have enough cash in them to meet a request and the customer might have to try others, or the retailer might impose a limit of £25 to ensure they keep enough change in the till for their own cash sales. Moreover, retailers will only provide cash in return for a card transaction – that will not help those who do not have a card and need to present a cheque at their bank in order to get cash [although this must be a very low number who have entirely cash incomes].

The main impact of the withdrawal of ATM’s is the loss of a 24/7 cash facility so people will have to prepare in advance if they anticipate a need for cash after shops close or at the weekends [e.g. to by a match programme at a sporting event or some refreshments at an entertainment venue].

We can surely organise ourselves to withdraw cash without a 24/7 facility if there is not a convenient ATM. Some businesses who could dispense cash are open late, of course,

Cash purchases have reduced substantially in value so I’d hope cash businesses would have sufficient money available. In essence, there should be a balance between the cash they take in and the cash they dispense.

However, as ATMs will inevitably decline because of a continuing change in consumer habits rather than do a King Canute we need to recognise that change and put in place alternatives, hopefully ones that are a significant improvement in most respects.

ATM’s will inevitably decline through reduced use. They are an expensive way to provide cash. If the access to cash through cash businesses is successful it will give far more people convenient access than ATM’s could ever hope to offer.

Covid is an exceptional time and I hope that we will return more to cash normality when it is over.

Individual hardship cases can always be used to support an argument. A system cannot be devised to support every possible contingency so we have to treat exceptional cases in exceptional ways.

But there are many UK adults who cannot, for a variety of reasons, access credit or debit cards. In my opinion, the banks and the public would be better served if the banks tried to tighten their lamentable record of security. For example in one of the lowest years for written off credit card debts the amount written off on credit cards alone in December 2018 was £412 Billion. They could fund quite a few ATMs with that amount.

Ian, you say ”the amount written off on credit cards alone in December 2018 was £412 Billion.”. It would be useful to have a link to support your figure.
This https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cardsloans/article-8277369/Britains-69bn-credit-card-debt-pile-falls-year-year-time-ever.html says that current credit card debt is around £70 billion and Statista say written off debt is around 2% – which I make £1.4 bn. But maybe we are looking at different things?

We could write off the Covid spend and more if your figure were true:
”This year the government is spending a staggering £280bn on measures to fight Covid-19 and its impact on the economy.25 Nov 2020
http://www.bbc.co.uk › business-52663523

It is worth remembering that, in the end, it is bank customers who fund written off debt and ATMs. You, me and all the others.

From what I’ve seen, it is easy to get a debit card if you can open a savings account or current account.

Opening such accounts usually requires an identity check, eg a photo id and confirmation of your home address.

In practical terms, anyone without either a passport or a driving licence may struggle with the identity check.

But apart from that, I think anyone with a fixed abode and a source of money could easily get a debit card.

A “basic bank account” should provide the answer for many. Alternative forms of ID for those without a passport or driving licence that are likely to be accepted are listed.
Let us hope security is sufficient to prevent such accounts being misused by fraudsters. Sometimes it is difficult to see how we can help one group of people without potentially damaging another.

Sadly the Post Office stopped offering a current account and then went on to close existing accounts. There is still an Instant Saver account with an ATM card.

Derek mentions that it is easier to get a debit card and I presume that basic bank accounts do not offer overdraft facilities. Since 2016 the nine main banks have been required to offer basic bank accounts. I wonder how they make a profit on these if customers cannot get into debt.

This is the link for which you asked, Malcolm.

I agree we all pay, which is why the banks ought to be doing more to ensure security. Perhaps talking to each other might be a good start? But the bottom line is that a large number of folk need cash; with branches closing everywhere ATMs remain the only option.

I am all for keeping ATMs, especially if retailers are not willing to provide cashback.

Ian, according to that link the credit card write off in the whole of 2018, according to my adding up, .was about £1.5 billion, around what I quoted above. You said ”the amount written off on credit cards alone in December 2018 was £412 Billion. ”. There is a big misunderstanding somewhere.

What basis do you have for suggesting that retailers and other cash businesses are not willing to join a cashback scheme (where you withdraw cash free of charge on a debit card without making a purchase)? If this method happens, as the Access for Cash proposals suggest it will, it will make cash available to far mor people than an ATM network ever could. It seems to me that is a big step forward in both helping the public who want to use cash and in protecting the future of cash.

In order to use an ATM, folk will need either a cash point card, a debit card or a credit card. Some bank accounts only offer cashpoint cards but many offer debit cards or the choice of either.

Ian, the high interest rates on credit cards are there to cover write offs, I presume.

Thanks Derek. Do you think that prepaid cards have a significant role? I’ve mainly heard of them in the context of travel money and children’s accounts.

Malcolm wrote: “What basis do you have for suggesting that retailers and other cash businesses are not willing to join a cashback scheme …”

I said that I am keen on keeping ATMs, especially if retailers are not willing to provide cashback. At present some retailers have stopped accepting cash, the intended subject of this Conversation, so I doubt they will dispense it at present when, as Which? has reported, some are struggling to obtain cash. You have great confidence that retailers will make cash far more available to the public but to what extent has this happened since the Access to Cash report was published? Is any major roll-out going to happen in 2021?

I am unable to answer your question: “What basis do you have for suggesting that retailers and other cash businesses are not willing to join a cashback scheme…”, but I wonder what evidence there is that a useful number are willing. Is it cheaper to fund retailers to provide this service than to retain ATMs?

We could, but to answer your question there are trials in progress. As I understand it a transaction payment will be made to the cash dispenser rather like the LINK atm scheme. I do not suggest ATMs will not be retained where they are justified but we could never provide enough at sensible cost to do what a successful cash scheme from rerailers could provide.
Should we not make cash conveniently available to as many people as possible? Or just those living near an ATM, bank or post office?

My expectation is that the cashback scheme will be patchy. In places where there is a large supermarket already providing cashback [although at present that is only against purchases], other shops and businesses will not see the need to do so, but in smaller communities, suburbs, housing estates, etc, an enterprising shopkeeper might see the advantage of drawing people into the store by offering a cash facility. I expect, however, that many such outlets would already have a pay-to-use ATM. Since people wanting cash without a purchase will have to present a card I don’t see this as advancing access to cash much further. I don’t know whether businesses will be able to charge for access to cash without a purchase.

We might start seeing signs saying “Please do not ask for cash as refusal often offends”.

@carneades, Ian, can you explain the £412 bn you quoted in your comment above?https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/cash-refusal-card-payments-only-spread/#comment-1616534

Another initiative being trialled is banking hubs in post offices – shared bank branches effectively – that many want to see. https://www.ft.com/content/32ee4c5b-efdd-42a5-bef7-a0d81bfc58d5

John wrote: “I don’t know whether businesses will be able to charge for access to cash without a purchase.” I wondered the same thing and suspect that consumers would not be charged. Where ATMs are more than 1km from another free to use machine they can be subsidised: https://www.link.co.uk/initiatives/financial-inclusion/

The proposal is to give free access to cash with payments being made rather like FTU ATMs are supported, from what I read. Until Brexit, this was impeded by the EU’s second payment services directive. So a benefit of our exit.

I had assumed that businesses offering cash without a purchase will just process the transaction through the till using the person’s card in the chip & pin machine. I haven’t seen any report that the establishment cannot levy a fee for the function.

Since this all depends on traders having a surfeit of cash, and cash is currently used less for purchases [especially since the advance of contactless payments] and might remain that way, I cannot get too optimistic over this particular trial, albeit that in many ways it makes a lot of sense.

The government is consulting on cash – Oct 2020. I see cashback without purchase as one major way on offer to extend access to cash withdrawals to more people than traditional outlets like ATMs and banks/POs can ever offer, because of their limited sites and costs. Let’s hope it is successful so all can benefit.
” However, the treatment of cashback where a purchase via card payment is not being made as part of the transaction (“cashback without a purchase”) is treated differently under financial services law, and card scheme rules. Cashback without a purchase is not explicitly exempted from the definition of a payment service under the EU’s Second Payment Services Directive, as transposed into UK law through the Payment Services Regulations (2017). As a result of the Directive, cashback without a purchase constitutes a regulated payment service. This is distinct to cashback with a purchase, which is explicitly exempted from regulated payment services under the Directive. Generally, only suitably registered or authorised businesses such as banks and payment institutions are permitted to provide payment services in the UK. Absent legislative changes, the provision of cashback without a purchase would require that either:
a) merchants are registered or authorised to provide the regulated service or
b) merchants act as an agent of a payment service provider, such as the acquirer or the customer’s card issuer
3.30 However, both of these approaches add in notable friction to the process, and in the government’s view therefore stand as barriers to the widescale provision of cashback without a purchase.
3.31 In addition to having the correct mechanisms in place to manage risk and assign liability, the success of cashback without a purchase will also require the right commercial incentives to encourage merchants to offer this service. In 2020, card schemes, including VISA and Mastercard, announced incentives of 12 pence per transaction for retailers in order to encourage uptake of an alternative withdrawal service.
3.32 The government’s view is that cashback without a purchase has the potential to be a valuable facility to cash users in future, play an important role in the UK’s cash infrastructure, and comes with the additional benefit of supporting local cash recycling. It is possible that the lack of exemption for cashback without a purchase in the EU’s Second Payments Services Direction was an oversight; nonetheless after the end the of transition period on 31 December 2020, the government will be able to implement legislation to remove barriers to the widespread adoption of cashback without a purchase.
3.33 This call for evidence is interested in views on how cashback with and without a purchase could play a greater role in future cash access, including how customer protections can be ensured through appropriate liability arrangements and how this facility can be made commercially attractive for merchants.

John wrote: “Since this all depends on traders having a surfeit of cash, and cash is currently used less for purchases [especially since the advance of contactless payments] and might remain that way, I cannot get too optimistic over this particular trial, albeit that in many ways it makes a lot of sense.” This is likely to be most of a problem in London, where cash usage is lower, but traders can alway order more cash from their bank if needed. I was fed-up that the small ATM in the village shop is often empty despite it being one of those subsidised under the financial inclusion scheme on the basis that there are no others nearby. Link said that it is the responsibility of the retailer to keep it topped up and took details of its location to investigate.

Three miles away the modest-sized Morrisons supermarket now has three ATMs in a row and one in their nearby filling station. In town, ATMs are abundant. It does not fit with claims that ATMs are expensive to provide and maintain, and maybe the alternatives could be more expensive.

Perhaps someone could provide the costs of installing and operating an ATM so we can see how many withdrawals are required if they are to be operated economcally.

If the government – through legislation – removes the legal obstacles to businesses providing a basic payment service and if the credit card issuers provide a financial incentive for each transaction then this service will be useful. The question will be where the crossover occurs between the flight from cash and the commencement of the new facility.

I can see why the credit card issuers will offer an incentive since their cardholders will start paying interest on their withdrawals from the date of withdrawal.

I think it would be debit cards. Then no charges are payable except by the system operators

”The other side of access to cash is the extent to which customers can pay by cash. There is limited evidence overall on the number of businesses that will not take cash. However, survey data suggest that one-in-ten consumers have been refused when trying to pay by cash since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.”. according to https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9054/CBP-9054.pdf

However Which? say

”In a survey of 2,000 people, 34 per cent reported being unable to pay with cash at least once when trying to buy something since March, when coronavirus restrictions were first introduced.”

That is a big difference on what seems to be the same claim. Who is right? Does more background work need doing to ensure robust information is presented, and not inaccurate data that could, in this case, mislead either parliament or the consumer?

@gmartin, these differences may well have a good explanation. Could Which? comment?

Quoting from a comment earlier in this Convo ” For example in one of the lowest years for written off credit card debts the amount written off on credit cards alone in December 2018 was £412 Billion. They could fund quite a few ATMs with that amount.”. They certainly could – that would provide nearly one for every adult in the UK.

This claim , if true, could fund HS2 four times over, build 20 nuclear power stations, write off nearly twice the debt incurred last year down to Covid-19. All on credit cards. The figure I estimate for written off UK credit card debt in 2018 is actually around £1.5 bn.

Maybe there is a misunderstanding somewhere or a mistake? Around £488 million was the figure actually written off in the quarter ending Dec 2018.

The link provided shows a bar chart quarter by quarter of credit card debt write off and underneath ”Credit card write-offs saw a steady increase until a huge spike in 2010, reaching a peak of £2.1 billion in June. This figure has generally decreased since, with fluctuations. In Demember 2018, the total amount written off was £412 billion, a decrease of 10.2% compared to December 2017.” A read of this shows clearly the mistake, as does a quick inspection of the chart. It is 1000 times out. It pays to consider the likely truth of published information.

Kevin says:
26 January 2021

BBC news today… news/world-55805777

“Co-op and Morrisons urge shoppers use cash as IT woes continue”

Seems a good reason to maintain a healthy level of cash use in the retail economy as part of general resilience, so we don’t suffer another predictable (and predicted) ‘unprecedented’ disaster.

True. However when reports include such statements as “Some customers said they had to use the convenience store’s cash machine to withdraw money to pay for purchases.” that, under the circumstances, seems convenient. Why put a negative slant – “had to” – on it as if it was a big problem? Sometimes things do go wrong and we have to make the best of it.

Patrick Taylor says:
26 January 2021

In France retailers are required to accept payments in cash. If they refuse it is a €35 fine. The person paying is entitled to use up to 50 coins when paying. The French think ahead rather than leaving things vague. : )

Patrick Taylor says:
26 January 2021


Just in case anyone wondered about the EU in general it seems national govts can make the rules but there is a presumption that cash should be able to be used. In Germany paying by cash is exceedingly common.

Sue Binns says:
30 January 2021

I am unable to manage my life without paying cash. I have debit card but use local shops to buy items who use cash – ie a market. Ringtons have just refused cash. Banks have outages. I have had problems with putting cards through on buses and supermarkets. I feel I have more control of spending as I live on a budget. I am not on-line at home (this is borrowed) and will never be able to afford to go on-line. I live alone and have no dependants, had to retire through ill-health at 50 so feel very vulnerable. I wish to continue to be able to manage my life as much for as long as possible but society is slowly stripping away my independence.

I had two problems on my boat. First, the WIFI connection was public and secondly it was liable to crash without warning. I was always afraid that any financial transaction could be interrupted and I might be left wondering how much of it had taken place, or whether I might have paid for something twice, or even placed the wrong order. Even at home, there is always a hiatus period when payments are being made and they are confirmed as having been made. Anything that happens during that time could impact on the payment. Sometimes the bank intervenes and asks for corroborative details. Very occasionally a poorly designed web site has crashed during a transaction with no e. mail back up or phone link. I’ve had to wait and see what has taken place and sort it out. Of course, it is also important to makes sure that you only expose your card to on-line traders with some reputation. One should not trawl the internet and buy on impulse. For this reason E.Bay and I are strangers. The card across the shop counter is reliable, easy and straightforward.
Some weeks the cash in my pocket remains untouched and then, quite suddenly it evaporates and I need to get more. On the boat it was pound coins for the laundry machines and a few items from the local garage food store. A chance meeting with a young relative might also deplete the wallet or a bus trip to local towns. Recently I parted with a few notes to my removals men and decided to pay the decorator in cash for a small job he was doing for me. I’m not getting my card out for a bar of chocolate, a newspaper or a pint of milk when I can produce a few coins from a pocket and be on my way. I parked close to the vaccination centre and paid to do so. I always pay cash for my haircut and add a few coins or a note extra for their service. During lock down with ever growing locks, this is well deserved. Until my washing machine arrived back here I parted with £10 for laundry every week. Maybe there are alternatives for some of these things, but why bother when a coin or a note is easy, quick and efficient?

” The government made a commitment to introducing legislation protecting access to cash in March 2020, but what’s the point in being able to access cash if you have no where to spend it?
I don’t see the relevance of this unless it is to explain why there has been a much-reduced access to cash. It certainly doesn’t portend the removal of cash as a method of payment.

Then we get headlines as here:
At first reading you might think disaster had struck – 1 in 3 transactions could not be paid in cash. But it actually seems to tell us that, over the previous 10 months, 1 person in 3 could not pay in cash, possibly only on one occasion. And it does not mean, of course, they could not pay. The ultra-cautious approach of retailers no doubt had a significant part to play.

I do wish that Which? would simply tell it as it is, give a balanced view, and not mislead people into reaching inappropriate conclusions simply to serve their stance. I want to see cash preserved, I believe it will be, and I hope access to it will be made convenient for far more people than at present.

But maybe frightening people is the way Which? see will get action?