/ Money

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.

Comments

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.
https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/06/02/coronavirus-surfaces

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:

https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12985-020-01418-7

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.