/ Money

Cheque ban being reconsidered – what’s the alternative?

Woman writing cheque

The planned abolition of cheques has caused huge controversy – and 92% of you voted to keep them in our poll. Now cheques might get a reprieve, as the Treasury Select Committee reopens it’s inquiry into their future…

When the UK Payments Council announced back in 2009 that it was intending to phase out cheques by 2018, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t expecting too much in the way of opposition to the plan.

After all, we were told, the cheque is in ‘terminal decline’ – with just 4m written in 2009, compared with the 11m that were used in 1990. Meanwhile, internet banking seemingly gets more sophisticated by the day, and there are vast swathes of people pottering about the country who have never written, nor received, a cheque.

Not everyone’s an ex-chequer

Yet ever since the Payments Council first revealed its plan, there has been a grumbling swell of protest from consumers, businesses and charities about what this might mean in practice.

Age UK has argued that pensioners may be particularly hard hit by the demise of the cheque, while companies have pointed out that the cost of processing debit and credit card payments will eat into their profits.

Which? Conversation readers came out firmly in favour of keeping the cheque when we asked for your views in November. Of the 1,311 people who took part in our poll, 50% had written a cheque in the previous month, 76% had used one within the past year and one in five of you had sent a cheque to a friend or relative as a gift.

Treasury to think twice

Now, it seems some MPs are also concerned about the UK Payment’s Council’s proposed abolition of cheques. Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, has said:

‘The Payments Council had seemingly forgotten about the millions of people who remain less at ease with the latest technology. Since our last inquiry we have been inundated by letters from the public telling us that they rely on cheques.’

Consequently, the Committee is now seeking evidence on how many people are likely to use cheques over the next few years, and what the impact of sticking to the Payments Council’s original decision might be.

What’s the alternative?

Cheques may be in decline but clearly, millions of us still use them every year, whether it’s to pay for tradesmen, for a school trip or as gifts to loved ones. So what else would we use if they disappeared?

This need for a decent alternative is our main concern, as our Chief Executive Peter Vicary-Smith says:

‘The Treasury Select Committee’s focus should be on ensuring that alternative payment methods, that all consumers are comfortable with, are in place before cheques are consigned to the scrapheap.’

So do you think the Committee is right to reconsider the demise of cheques – and if not, what alternative method of payment would you like to see in place before they disappear?


It sems that I have written nineteen cheques this year and for most of them there would have been no practical alternative. I also deduce from this exercise that as well as making an important contribution to my personal social life and well-being through access to the things I can only get this way, the cheque is a vital facility for numerous small traders and voluntary organisations many of which would struggle to survive without a convenient means of receiving payments. Shutting off this lifeline is not very Big Society, as someone has already mentioned. A further point not yet mentioned is that many people in remote areas cannot participate in the BACS system to pay accounts because they are too far from a bank and cannot do it on-line.
According to the foreword to this Conversation thread, the banking industry says fewer than one million cheques a month are being handled. I am very suspicious of this figure. Until recently I worked for a local authority which was issuing thousands of cheques and receiving considerably more. I know they have moved more payments onto the BACS system but they are still grateful for all the cheques they receive for evening classes, home helps, council tax, parking penalties, planning applications, and so on; in fact “one-off” payments are virtually impossible any other way except by using notes and coins at a payment counter.

Alfred Frearson says:
10 June 2011

I am not in agreement of getting rid of cheques.

sj says:
11 June 2011

I hope this campign suceeds in keeping cheques. They work extremely well for so many purposes. Charities in particular would be very badly affected if they were abolished. I can’t see the sense in paying good money to develop a replacement – why not just keep the system which works? The key thing for me is that people have a choice – use a card if you can or want to and allow the rest of us to use cheques as we wish!

Carol Primrose says:
12 June 2011

I have been using internet banking for years but for one-off payments cheques are more convenient. If, for example, I make a donation to charity I can annotate the stub with details of the recipient, the kind of payment (whether raffle or donation) and whether it was gift-aided. When I pay for orders from a catalogue, I list the items ordered on the stub.To make these notes on a computer would require a second entry in a separate document.