/ Money

Freedom to Pay: what’s next?

Our Cash Summit brought together everyone who’s anyone in banking and finance. Now, we’re discussing what’s next for our Freedom to Pay campaign.

09/10/2019: Update

Today, we’ve revealed the effect of widespread cash machine closures, which have left many rural communities with long journeys to make free withdrawals, and some struggling to access cash at all.

Meanwhile, Barclays’ shocking decision to stop customers being able to withdraw cash from the Post Office from 8 January 2020 has exposed the fragility of the UK’s cash system, and blows apart industry claims that the Post Office network is a solution to the cash crisis.

The Government must step in and introduce legislation that guarantees consumers can continue to access and pay with cash for as long as it is needed. Do you agree?

17/06/2019: Freedom to Pay: what’s next?

In May, we welcomed the government’s unprecedented commitment to ensuring cash continues to be available to those who need it. Our supporters helped make this an issue that no-one could ignore.

The announcement showed that the government has heard us, and will now lead a new group to reduce the barriers people face when accessing cash.

Here are three of the biggest events and meetings we had last week to support our campaign:

1. Our Cash Summit

We hosted a Cash Summit with over 140 attendees talking about what’s needed to ensure people have the freedom to pay in whatever way suits their needs.

This included conversations about how to protect cash while it’s still needed, and actions businesses and the government can take to support people as they transition towards digital payments.

The event included speeches from Gwyneth Nurse the Director of Financial Services at the Treasury, Natalie Ceeney, who chaired the powerful Access to Cash review, the Managing Director of the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) Chris Hemsley and our CEO Anabel Hoult.

Joel Hills from ITV news hosted a panel discussion featuring Jenni Allen the Content Director at Which?, Natalie Ceeney, Martin McTague the Policy and Advocacy Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, John Hutton the Director of Payments at Nationwide and Mark Barnett the UK President of Mastercard.

Check out our Twitter hashtag to see more about the points that were discussed.

We know that some people choose not to use cash, but we believe that it remains a vital back up for everyone when systems fail. On the day of the summit we launched new research showing that 7 million people experienced an outage in the last year which prevented them using their debit or credit card.

We also discovered that one in ten people affected by an outage suffered a financial penalty, such as a late payment fee. The same proportion said their credit score was damaged because they failed to pay a bill on time. This received coverage across national and local media.

2. The Welsh Assembly

As Thomas Docherty explained last week, we gave evidence to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills committee for their inquiry into Access to Banking Services in Wales.

We highlighted the impact of bank closures across the nation, and that many Welsh people struggle to access online banking services due to poor connectivity.

We called on the Welsh Government to support our calls on the UK government to introduce a statutory duty and to do more to improve internet and phone signal across Wales.

3. The Scottish Affairs Committee

The Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster questioned the Minister John Glen MP, and representatives from the Post Office, as part of their Access to Financial Services inquiry.

The inquiry has been running for three months and we gave our evidence in March. We know that some people in Scotland have fewer payment options due to poor connectivity, the country losing over a third of its bank branches in eight years and regular cashpoint closures.

The Committee has strongly supported our campaign calls, and today asked the Minister to respond. This activity in the Westminster Parliament continues to apply pressure to the UK government to take urgent action. You can watch the session here.

What’s next?

Our campaign is far from over. We’re continuing to apply pressure to the government and the regulators to ensure they deliver on their promise, and the last week shows just how much we’ve got going on to help make this happen.

We’d like to say thank you to everyone who’s supported us so far, and for your contributions to previous topics here on Which? Conversation.

Did you welcome the government’s commitment to protecting access to cash? Do you feel supported by your bank as digital payments become more and more common?

Maureen Buckmaster says:
10 October 2019

I contacted Barclays to explain that I cannot walk very far and the nearest branch to me is over two miles away in a street that doesn’t allow parking, whereas the nearest post office has parking available and is only a few minutes drive away. I was advised to use Barclays cash machine (it’s outside the bank!!). They also told me they are hoping to link up with another bank to share facilities. (All the banks closest to me are in the same area as my Barclays branch) I was also told it saves them paying more money to post offices but surely they’ll have to pay any shared bank. I was also told that the announcement was going to be later in the year but the information was leaked. When would we have found out, I wonder. Is it time to find another more user friendly bank?

Peter Robinson says:
11 October 2019

I just went to my local Tesco Supermarket who had 3 ATM’s to make a £250 cash withdrawal only to find that one ATM had been shut down completely and the remaining two were both out of service because they had no cash!
Cash back in store wasn’t an option as they had a £50 maximum withdrawal limit. Staff at the store said that with one of the three ATM’s now closed, it was more than probable that the other two would run out of cash more quickly!
I had to drive a further 1.5 miles (each way) to locate the next free machine.
Why close ATM’s at a supermarket? I watched so many people walking up and then leaving without cash, so the demand is certainly there.

Susannah Meissner says:
13 October 2019

I rely on my local Post Office to access cash and now Barclays Bank is removing this option. Tell me that the news was leaked early and had not had time to put in other options. This will be taking cheque to PO and withdrawing money! Many years ago this was how I accessed cash from the bank!
Couldn’t believe my nearest access to cash would be a round trip of 16 miles and no bus service! Fortunately I still drive but at 79 I feel more and more disadvantaged and disenfranchised! Not only will this inconvenience me but many others in the villages near here. We are lucky to have a Post Office and shop but how long will this last if the Big Boys try to take business away.
A loyal Barclays customer but not for much longer!

You could switch to a mutual building society that will treat you better on rates and terms and let you draw money from the post office using your debit card.

Barclays have said that they will set up a cash service with small businesses, but it is not clear whether the providers will have to be Barclays Bank customers which would limit the opportunities. In many rural situations there might not be any suitable small businesses near the post office to serve as alternatives without an additional journey.

I live in a small town and we now do not have either a bank or post office. It is ten miles to the nearest bank and 2 miles to the nearest small post office, I have difficulty walking, parking at the post office is very limited. To reach the bank I have to drive ten miles then walk from the nearest car park which takes me between twenty and thirty minutes, by which time I can hardly breathe and I’m in agony with pain in my back caused by arthritis in my spine.

Is this really what I and others have to be reduced to? There are no caring banks today.

I too live in a large village. There used to be 2 banks here (one was only part-time); now we have none. There is, at present, just one ATM machine in the village. The only alternative is to go to the nearest small market town where there is a branch of my bank and its ATM machine, but there are only 3 buses a day and even they only run if enough people say they want to use them, a day in advance. I drove into that town today (8 miles each way) and found that the ATM machine outside my bank was out of order – this happens quite frequently. I have reverted to using cash more and more often, for the reasons I have given below. It is crucial to me to have reliable access to cash on a daily basis.

So would you support being able to get cash from a small local business?

Yes, though individual T&Cs might limit cashback to £50 or so. In fact, the only ATM in my village is within the local Coop shop. If that were to be closed we would be in severe difficulties.

Just an associated point: I recentlly visited “LOGO Land” in Windsor and found that I was unable to pay for anything in this park with cash. They will only accept cards.
They have decided that our coins and Bank Notes, which show a portrait of our sovereign are not good enough for them.
Surely this is illegal.
Who the hell do they think they are!!!

DerekP says:
15 October 2019

Hi Keith, this kind of thing is becoming more common within stately homes and similar recreational facilities.

I notice that more and more ‘services’ are being made accessible more easily to those who have a mobile ‘Smart’ phone and those of us who don’t have or use one of these gadgets are, seemingly, being wilfully excluded. Are we approaching the time when it will be compulsory to have one of the Smart phones and what will happen to the rest of us who don’t and/or choose not to ? I am more than happy with my landline, (and cheque books and cash) but I do wonder how much further these large companies, Banks and so on will go to bend us all to their ‘will’ and for their convenience.

DerekP says:
16 October 2019

I think we have already reached the point where some things can only be done online. One trivial example is the part-time job I now have. Not least for compliance with GDPR regulations, the only way to apply for it was to email in a CV and/or complete various on-line forms, on an agency website. As there was originally a sudden urgency to get me on-board, I really did submit my first application using a smart phone, from the pub where I was celebrating my retirement from full time employment.

Many organisations are now assuming that the digital age is upon us and applicants for services can be expected to apply online. That obviously doesn’t suit everyone and alternative paper based applications are usually still available for services that citizens may be entitled to receive, whether or not they “do” computers.

Here in Gloucester Library, we do our best to help everyone cope with the digital age. The library computers provide free internet access for library card holders, while staff and volunteers (including myself) are on hand to assist with getting things done.

Convenience is the great lure for getting us to hand over control. Once automatic payments are enabled on your phone you just don’t know what’s going on under your nose. If a business doesn’t want to take your cash or card take your business elsewhere.

Yes. I agree. My bank has been trying to encourage me to go online, mobile or telephone banking, and I have constantly refused, stating the past downtimes with on line bank accounts and the possibility of scammers, no matter how ‘secure’ they claim to be. I still make lodgements, or transfers in person at the bank. After all, if we all went digital, many more bank staff would be unemployed. Keep Cash at all costs.

When out and about today, I found that a Barclays branch near the university had closed and the ATM removed. There was a notice in the window giving addresses of the city centre branch and two other branches within five miles or so.

The notice continued: “You can also visit any Post Office to do your banking essentials such as paying in cash and cheques, checking your balance and withdrawing money.” You might have to switch banks if you want to withdraw money from a Post Office.

I then passed a Post Office that I used to use before it closed. The building has undergone major renovation and looks ready to reopen, but it will not be as a Post Office.

Stephen Duncan says:
16 October 2019

I have had a letter from Fast Track Reclaim requesting I pay them for my PPI claim. Having contact your office I was told to ignore the request but Fast Track are calling me to make a payment of £4.99, I was under the impression that the claim site was for Which members, I completed the information and sent it to your office. I contacted your office and the lady on the phone said “ not another one we’ve had lots of calls regarding this site scam.
Your advice on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

TP gives it 1.5 stars , money saving website says don’t go near them but the clincher is Cover Magazine, an industry online newspaper who quote Which ? please read it Stephen –

Martin says:
18 October 2019

In recent years I have suffered three major fraud attempts against my credit card, within hours of using it to pay restaurant bills. Each fraud was for many hundreds of pounds worth of stuff. My card issuer accepted these as frauds and, thankfully, eventually reimbursed me.
Because of these experiences I am using cash more and more often, to pay for petrol, for meals out and even in smaller shops. I feel unable to trust credit or debit cards completely. My local police force spent months on these frauds but eventually gave up, being unable to track down the fraudsters.

The latest LINK ATM Footprint report is published. This shows how many protected ATMs were lost in August. (Free-to-use ATMs that do not have another free-to-use ATM within 1 km.)

The net loss was 15. Of these 8 were in locations where consumers have free access to cash over the counter from the Post Office, or where the site was not accessible to the general public, e.g. inside a corporate building, or where there is a security issue. 2 were only temporarily out of action. 4 are being offered premiums to recommission and LINK are looking to directly commission a LINK member to reinstate the remaining one.

Eddie says:
24 October 2019

I’ve stopped using cards entirely, except for drawing cash. Cards used to be fine, for convenience but now I just can’t be bothered with all the keeping track, hanging onto receipts and checking statements that we know we should do but rarely get around to later. It’s too easy to make a mistake when paying and not notice, With cash you can feel how much is going out and when a transaction is done it’s over. The potential for fraud with your card details is enormous. You may drop the odd note ocassionally but mistakes on a card aren’t limited to how much you’re carrying. And don’t get me started on ‘contactless’, remembering to swipe out on buses & trains etc. I’ve disabled contactless on all of them. Cards have had their day.

In contrast, I’ve almost stopped using cash entirely. I can easily keep track of my finances by using a PC or smart phone to check my current account as often as I want to.

Less than two years ago, this sort of sign was fairly common, but I am not aware of many cash-only businesses now.

In the past week I have had to use cash to pay the chap who organised a coach to visit a power station, the tip for the driver, the entrance fee for a society event and for a couple of packs of Christmas cards on sale at the event. Then there are the charity donations I collected last Sunday. I paid the takings into our society’s account and am left with a bag of cash.

Maybe in future it will all be done by tapping mobile phones together but I reckon that cash will be needed for a while yet.

Some of the Big Issue sellers in the city centre now offer contactless payment facilities. I don’t blame them – being laden down with coins must be a burden and a security risk.

I’m not surprised, John, but if we are pushed to move away from using cash we need some practical alternatives. I’ve just received an email to say that in the past five years, the main charity activity that I’m involved with has raised £73k – mainly cash plus a few cheques. Contactless cards and phone payments will not work because we operated in a rural Site of Special Scientific Interest with no mobile signal.

Cards turn you into a victim for all sort of tricks & scams, some by the vendors & service providers themselves. Recurring payments are one of the latest, of which you may not always be aware being signed up for. Cash is King and it keeps you in charge.

If your wallet is lost or stolen, any cash you are carrying will be gone.

But any cards can be blocked and, under current arrangements, you won’t suffer any financial loss, even if if those cards are subsequently used in any any fraudulent contact-less transactions.

Cash is also no use at all when you want or need to make online payments.

Also, many vendors and service providers require you to give them direct debiting mandates, so they can make unforeseen charges whether or not cards are involved.

There is a use for all the methods of paying – cash, cards, online, dds, cheques, and I predict they are all with us for the foreseeable. The scaremongering about losing cash as a weapon is just that. It is naturally declining in both transactions and amounts spent as other methods find their places but that does not lead to the conclusion that it is dead. As we have seen in these convos, we (nearly) all have given multitudinous examples of how and where we use cash, and want to continue using it. What we need to address is keeping access to it, in a constructive way, for as many people and as conveniently (within reason) as possible.

Rose says:
24 October 2019

Has WHICH commented upon Barclays Bank not allowing UK Post Offices to dispense cash any longer commencing January 2020 If they haven’t then a campaign is necessary because some people cannot find an ATM machine, or wish to use it, or refuse to comply with yet another hidden tax by being forced to pay in order to obtain their own money.

Rose, Which? have reported on it and some of us have commented on it. I wrote directly to Barclays. I’m sure that had no impact upon their decision today. The good news is that “Barclays has reversed its decision to prevent customers withdrawing money from the Post Office network.

Peter says:
25 October 2019

Cash machines in village have started charging 99P to get my own money out! Does this mean I’ll have to catch a bus to get cash?

This was predicted earlier this year, Peter: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/05/exclusive-1250-free-atms-started-charging-fees-in-just-one-month/ Since people tend to avoid having to pay to withdraw cash, the next step may be to remove machines that are little used.

Consumer pressure has resulted in Barclays reversing its decision to stop customers withdrawing their money from Post Offices. We could do with similar consumer pressure to help maintain free ATMs in rural areas.

Peter, LINK look after the network of most ATMs (but they do not own ATMs) and their work in maintaining the network of free ones is stated here: https://www.link.co.uk/initiatives/financial-inclusion-monthly-report/.

Your bank, the vast majority of ATMs and the post office will give you free access to your money. However, there are commercial providers of ATMs that are not banks who install them to provide a service; the ATM, its installation, its servicing, costs money and has to be recovered, otherwise these commercial services would not exist. So they charge a fee.

LINK try to ensure that wherever there has been a free-to-use ATM there will be another free source of cash within 1km – whether an ATM or a post office. If not, they endeavour to see one is provided.

There is a move afoot to regulate many small retailers who handle cash to “recycle” it, by dispensing it. This, if introduced, should give access to cash to far more people, including those who are in remote areas, than have ever had access to cash in the past, even in the heyday of bank branches. That initiative should be supported and the focus of a Which? campaign.

I would point out that Which?’s figures given in the link are somewhat misleading. They do not show the distribution of pay-to-use ATMs vs free-to-use. The LINK map shows that most areas where there are pay-to-use also have a good distribution of free ones. Nor do the figures show where there is an area where only a pay ATM is left. LINK give the detail necessary to make proper sense of ATM changes. We need to look at more than just the headlines 🙂

Billy Watt says:
25 October 2019

Agree with all the comments regarding cash availability. With the exception of direct debits and any large amount purchases, I buy everything using cash, even the weekly shop. I’ve seen others paying very small amounts (less than £5) using their card. Cash allows me to budget my weekly spend and not spend for the sake of using my card.

Delia Wareham says:
26 October 2019

Many charities rely on small cash donations. There are hundreds if not thousands of local clubs and societies around the country which rely on cash for a small entrance fee at meetings as well as cash received from fund raising raffles etc.. They cannot be expected to have card readers or on line phone connections to use electronic methods of payment. How will they manage?

Cash will continue as one method of making payments. What we can do is support the proposal that smaller cash businesses also can be regulated (as necessary) to issue cash against a debit card. If it is successfully adopted over the whole of the UK, in places large and very small, far more people would be able to access cash than has ever been possible.

I share your concerns, Delia. Card readers such as iZettle and SumUp offer a cheap way for charities and businesses to take card payments but they depend on a reliable mobile network signal. That would not help the part of a charity that I’m involved with because there is no signal in the rural area.

I think the top priority should be to preserve free ATMs. Those that charge may soon disappear because they are not economically viable. I could easily switch to card payments but for at least seven months a year I pay in my takings on behalf of a small charity and am then left with a lot of cash to dispose of.

Maybe it will not be long before we pay the entrance fee at social meetings by tapping phones together.

I support preserving a sensible distribution of free-to-use ATMs but accept our change in habits will see their decline in density. As we cannot avoid the consequences of change – change that most of us have willingly embraced – we now need to look at other ways of making access to cash available that will benefit far more people, finding a constructive way forward. One such way has been proposed that would seem to benefit a huge number of people.

I think the scaremongering about abolishing cash should be stopped; I do not believe it has foundation.

D.L.Green says:
2 November 2019

Using Cash is the best way to Budget , I withdraw what I need for the week and that’s it, when I open the wallet to pay I can see what I have left. Simple really : I know what I have been paid and what I have taken out. The amount of time I save is massive ,no wasting time on the internet checking the balance, No reconciling all those receipts against online statements and so on.
Best of all, because I can make savings and watch what I spend I can now afford to run a Vintage Rolls Royce .Beats me why anyone would use contactless , its the daftest idea out there and it is definitely NOT
FREE to use.
the retailers have to pay to offer the service and this cost inevitably appears in the prices charged

Sue King says:
2 November 2019

The elderly and disabled do not always have the option of multiple credit cards and if on a low income the chance of any credit facilities. Lets consider the more vulnerable of our society and keep cash options open.

Here here ! Sue .