/ 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?


There seems to be too much focus on the right to pay by cash. What about the right to pay by card?

I visited European 7 countries in 4 trips last month, and only in one, Belgium, did I have a problem paying by card. In Bruges, despite it being a very touristy city, lots of businesses accept cash only, for example restaurants, ice cream shops and boat trips. And if they do take cards, they impose a hefty minimum transaction amount such as €20. It’s like going back to the 1990s. One waiter told me that the French are the most insistent on paying by card in Bruges, surprisingly not Scandinavians. I’m guessing this is because the French expect the rest of the Eurozone to operate in the same modern way as their own country, whereas none of Scandinavia is in the Eurozone (Finland being a Nordic country, not Scandinavia).

Instead of seeing their incapacity to accept card payments as a deficiency, the staff at another restaurant were proud of it. In many parts of Europe, cash is a thing of the past and almost everyone, young and old, pays by card. Even in countries like Germany where cash remains king because of local customers’ preferences, establishments in tourist areas nevertheless accept cards. But this restaurant stubbornly refuses to live in 2019 and instead lives in 1989, ignoring customers’ wishes, reflected in multiple Tripadvisor reviews by customers who were caught out by this backward policy. Even using an expensive off-the-shelf provider such as SumUp, it would cost a Belgian business no more than 2.75% to accept EUR payments by all types of card including Amex, or much less using a provider from another Eurozone country. Surely it should have occurred to Belgians, of all people, to shop around within the EU’s single market?

I completely stopped using GBP cash over 4 years ago, and had no problem using cards in the other 6 countries I visited last month, so I didn’t appreciate restaurant staff telling me that I should revert to using cash in order to have spare change to give to street musicians.

I know that my comments are not in keeping with Which’s UK-centric focus, but please remember that UK residents do travel outside the UK, and these issues are just as important, no matter where we are transacting.

I think the overall intention is to preserve choice of using cash or cards. In denying choice, some Belgian businesses appear to be out of step. I expect they will come into line eventually and allow cards to be used as well as cash.

You wouldn’t be very welcome in New Orleans without cash. There are street musicians on every corner……..and churches with offertory boxes and memorial candles to light for the departed.

At the weekend, my brother showed me the iZetlle smart phone app that he has used to allow card payments at the beer festivals he helps to run. The app is used in connection with an inexpensive bluetooth card reader. He said it was a great convenience not having to go and bank many thousands of pounds worth of cash at the end of each event.

For commercial operators this may well be a good option, not only to save money handling cash but also to be able to deal with customers who don’t have the cash on them. However it will charge them 1.75% for a card transaction and 2.5% for one online.

I wonder how immune these services really are to misuse and hacking?

That is what the micropub in town uses, which saves having to direct a small proportion of customers to the nearest ATM. It does not provide a receipt but most people don’t ask for receipts in pubs.

It would not be any use to me collecting donations for a charity. We operate within a rather rural Site of Special Scientific Interest and there is no landline and no reliable mobile signal, so electronic payments are not possible.

I would suggest that the Belgians are more aware of potential card fraud.

A.Richards says:
18 June 2019

[This comment has been deleted as it broke the terms and conditions of the site and our community guidelines. https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/ ]

Tony says:
19 June 2019

I have voted ‘disagree’ because I don’t understand what you’re saying.

Tony, I did too, because it is A.Richards who has lost the plot, not anyone else in this conversation.

A.Richards, posting unsubstantiated and unreasoned conspiracy-fuelled drivel just makes you appear as a fool. Presumably you hurl the same insults at the majority of economically-active people who likewise prefer to transact electronically?

George, the Belgians’ reluctance to accept cards is nothing to do with concern over card fraud. It’s down to high fees charged by Belgian banks for processing card transactions. But instead of shopping around for a cheaper bank or acquirer in another EU country, these Belgian businesses simply refuse to accept cards.

Certainly consumers are making much less use of cash as, for many, more convenient forms of payment have emerged. However, as we see in Convos, there are very many instances where cash is almost a must, and certainly a preference, particularly for small and personal transactions.

Partisan campaigning might claim “ an alarming shrinkage in the number of free-to-use ATMs in recent months ” but ask from where these have gone – isolated machines (being protected as far as possible by LINK with substantially increased subsidies) or near others where the demand for withdrawals has declined to make some of them uneconomic?

We might also think about making constructive proposals, such as are given in the “Access to Cash” review; for example, enabling cash business to dispense cash, a proposal that would make cash more conveniently available to far more people than can get at it now.

Times change and we have to adopt a sensible, pragmatic and constructive approach that is progressive not live in the past.

I strongly support the government’s commitment to access to cash, though I am concerned that this could be forgotten when there is a change in government. I am grateful for the efforts of Which? to raise awareness for the need to maintain access to cash and bank services, highlighting difficulties in rural Scotland and Wales. What is needed most, in my view, is some coordination in provision of local services. For example it is naive to assume that it’s OK to remove an ATM because there is a Post Office without any guarantee that this will remain. I have twice experienced loss of a local PO. There is no need for every ATM to be profitable provided that the overall operation is and as I see it, banks have a collective responsibility to provide adequate services for their customers.

I support NFH’s point about the supporting those who want to use cash, though I do not see much opportunity for the UK to influence what happens in other countries.

For the foreseeable future we need to make provision for freedom to pay in the way we choose and to maintain access to cash.

Wavechange, I disagree with you that there is not “much opportunity for the UK to influence what happens in other countries“. The UK already imposes a huge amount of consumer legislation upon other EU countries, particularly with regard to methods of payment. The UK is a world leader in consumer legislation and therefore a large amount of European consumer legislation derives from UK initiatives rather than the other way around. An example is the EU-wide ban on surcharges for paying by card since 2012, which was a UK initiative as a result of Ryanair charging £6 per passenger per flight segment for paying by card, which was totally unrelated to cost. Long may the UK’s influence continue!

I’m just a little concerned about whether the EU will pay much attention to us after Brexit. I sincerely hope you are right.

If Brexit doesn’t happen, and it can’t happen in the manner that it was promised to the electorate, then of course the EU will continue to pay plenty of attention to the UK.

There’s no political will to implement the existing withdrawal agreement or to leave with no deal. The only way that the EU will negotiate a new withdrawal agreement is if the UK revokes Article 50, holds another referendum with a result to leave the EU and then invokes Article 50 again.

And why would the EU then alter their negotiating position. I suggest we will always get what we see as unfavourable and obstructive terms from the EU because they are afraid that, otherwise, other disenchanted states might consider following suit.

I disregarded any promises made for or against when the referendum was held, primarily because I do not believe what politicians tell us. Am I on my own? So my vote was cast in the light of many years of membership, reports on its activities and aspirations, and a general opinion that I formed.

pa says:
18 June 2019

These reports of its activities… were they accurate? biased in any way? who made them?

Who knows the truth, pa? I am simply suggesting an accumulation of information over the years gave a view. The CAP, fisheries, waste of money, two administrative centres, large salaries and pensions, and particularly moving from a trade association to a political union…….

Malcolm, the EU gave the UK the withdrawal agreement that Theresa May asked for, including the Irish backstop. However, Theresa May had neglected to ask either Parliament or the electorate what kind of deal they wanted before she asked the EU. That’s why it all fell apart. She did everything in the wrong order, despite plenty of people pointing this out to her at the time. She was very stubborn and didn’t listen.

The EU is currently under no obligation to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement simply because of a change in prime minister. The only way that to ensure that the EU does so is if the UK revokes Article 50, holds another referendum with a result to leave the EU and then invokes Article 50 again. Then negotiations have to start again.

Having watched the TV debate tonight with the five remaining candidates for the Tory Party leadership I am now convinced that we shall not be leaving the EU this year, or in the next few years, if ever.

John, I hope you’re right.

I don’t, NFH.

I think there’ll be political and social turmoil if our MP’s fail to deliver the referendum result. The problem is I just can’t see how it can be done, and certainly not by 31 October 2019.

I don’t think there is a mandate for a second referendum even if that was thought to be a good idea. I can’t see the EU allowing any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that they have spent years negotiating. The current Parliament is against a No Deal exit and is unlikely to change its mind. The next Prime Minister will become yet another casualty of the European Question. I therefore believe we shall remain in the EU by default. That would probably precipitate another general election where the Brexit Party or the Liberal Democrats could hold the balance of power but not be capable of forming an administration. The UK would become constitutionally ungovernable while remaining a weak and impotent member of the EU. In such a scenario the UK would be unlikely to be able to re-domicile here the European institutions that are already moving out and those corporations that have already determined to relocate to Dublin or the continent will not reconsider. So whether it’s leave or remain, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Brilliant.

I suppose the next little drama will be Theresa May’s resignation honours list. I can’t wait.

“it is naive to assume that it’s OK to remove an ATM because there is a Post Office without any guarantee that this will remain.“. I do not think it is at all naive. If there is an existing post office then there is the means to access cash. What I would expect would be a review of cash access if that post office should later be proposed for removal.

” There is no need for every ATM to be profitable provided that the overall operation is“. Well first, we do not know if every ATM is profitable (or do we?); it may well be many are run at a loss but that overall operation is profitable or breaks even. ATMs are commercial operations and if consumers stop using them then we must expect their viability to be scrutinised. I do not see why I, as a bank customer, should be forced to subsidise uneconomic operations.

However, that is not really the point. The point is (in my view) that if an ATM is lost we should try to find an alternative source of cash – as LINK does with its protected ATM policy. But, more importantly, we should be progressive and constructive and propose alternative means of obtaining cash to the benefit of everyone; such as enabling cash business to dispense cash throughout the country, in remote areas as well as the more populated ones.

“if there is an existing post office” – oh yes, the one in our nearest town (about 6 miles away + parking!) has been moved into WHSmith’s and queues can be even longer than the PO’s was at Christmas. (They also do passport photos – which takes away one of the counter staff = longer queues and less business for the local photo shop.)

Fran says:
18 June 2019

I live in a small town of around 14k people. From 7 banks 10 yrs ago we now have 2, both of which have ATMs. There are other cash machines at the 2 supermarkets, but these are not in the centre of town and therefore not as easily accessed, for elderly, many of whom worry about access to cash. Cash and card both need to be accessible to make payments simple for ALL.

As a pensioner I was always told cash was KING, not so much now, but to us, senior citizens, the availability of cash is paramount.

Christopher Manning says:
18 June 2019

Why do the powers that be want payments to be digital only?. It follows that, if a person’s wealth in held digitally, then it is held by a third party (eg a bank for instance) and NOT the person who owns it, and therefore has the potential to do with it what they like. Only ten years ago, we saw what happened to our own money with the banks debacle of 2008 on, and subsequent “billions of pounds” bailing out of them by the Government with yet further expense via taxpayers money. An old saying goes “possession is nine tenths of the law”. If it (cash) is in my hands then I do not have to rely on third parties competency, honesty, trust and sense of fairness to keep it safe, either from themselves (and here I refer to punitive charges and “handling fees”) or other organisations.. Remember here that banks were first ever set up on the premise and promise that they would keep your money safe. I see no reason why that should never, ever be deviated from.
It seems very reasonable to ask oneself the question, in todays digital revolution times ” Is my money safer in my hands alone or in the hands of a digital system that has shown since its first inception, that it has, and always will have security vulnerability issues.” There are advantages to digital financial management – ease of transacting etc,. but when the cost of the advantages are far out weighed by financial loss either through account hacking, exhorbitant bank charges/fees and the like, together with the realisation that the digital system does not want to take responsibility for their failing systems by refunding customers, then most people are going to start thinking that actually holding their own cash is the safer option. Here, the sensible choice to keep cash as as an equally valid, tried and tested traditional payment option becomes the prudent and pragmatic way.

I think it is debatable as to whether “the powers that be want payments to be digital only”“. Many people – probably the vast majority – find it extremely convenient to have their salaries paid directly into their bank account, to be able to make purchase on line or on a shop without the need to carry (much) cash, for example. We have simply embraced the new methods and, in consequences, used to bank branch far less. But we cannot ignore the consequences of this – primarily a reduction in “traditional” face-to-face banking. The key, in my view, is to adapt to this in positive ways, not try to maintain the past as well as the present.

The code of conduct is designed to address any deficiencies in the security of your money, as is payee authentication and the authentication of online payments.

I agree that we should keep cash; however I think the continued claims that we are are heading for a cashless society are unfounded, thank goodness. There are security issues in keeping cash – wallets and handbags still get stolen and you are most unlikely to get that loss refunded.

Christopher Manning says:
18 June 2019

I note what you say Malcolm about salary paid into account being easier etc etc.The tone of my remarks suggest that cash should always be available to those that want it. It is their money. Any sinister attempt by a discredited financial industry to force digital payments on all, whether young or old and frail, or simply an older generation that does not want to use online technology, should be resisted, and nipped in the bud immediately. The big buzz word, at least until recently, was “choice” – and who can argue with that?

Up to the 1980s, there was a small independent chemist’s shop in our high street in NW London. The couple who owned it told us that they always left about £50 in the till overnight in case the shop was burgled; they reasoned it would prevent the burglars from taking out their temper on the shop contents if they found an empty till. Probably part of the reasoning was that it was easier to make off with cash rather than stock. One evening our friends forgot to leave the £50, and that very night was the unlucky one; when they opened the shop the next morning it had been wrecked. I can’t see how they could have carried out their “protective” measure without cash.

Chris says:
18 June 2019

Went to Padstow yesterday & in the Whistlefish card & picture shop which no longer accepts cash, the lady was explaining to a customer why. Since Barclays bank closed in January the insurers refused to allow them to keep money on site, or to be carried the 18 miles to the nearest bank. This means most of their shops have to accept cards only.

Jon says:
18 June 2019

I live in rural Shropshire where paying by card is difficult, many shops will not accept cards for small payments so cash is needed, the say the cost is too high.
I would also take any input from politicians and bankers with a large pinch of salt as it is in the interest of both to have a cashless society so they can see what we spend, hence earn and tax accordingly. For big business who run the payment systems the sooner cash goes the better so the fees can be increased and more profit made.
Therefore to protect the small independent retailer and the public from ever increasing costs we would incur to spend our money cash is vital.

Paul says:
18 June 2019

Well we all know politicians don’t honour their manifesto promises so why we would believe them? I think the customer should have the choice of how to pay and not the shop dictating. If they do then go elsewhere … until they all do it then we’re screwed!

Up to the 1980s an elderly couple owned a small independent chemist’s shop on our local high street in NW London. They told us that they always left about £50 cash in the till overnight in case the shop was burgled. Their reasoning was that if they couldn’t find anything to steal, the burglars might take out their temper on the contents of the shop, which had beautiful traditional fittings and urns. Probably part of the reasoning was that it would be easier for burglars to make off with cash rather than stock. One evening they forgot to leave the £50, and that was the unlucky night. When they opened the shop in the morning it had been wrecked. I don’t see how they could have taken their “precautionary measure” without using cash.

A.Richards says:
18 June 2019

Clearly reading these comments your phone, card or credit device will be the death of you all.
Because when the electronic system freezes or power goes off or an EMP happens by whatever means , none of you can move ,think , drink ,feed.
Within 72 hours most of you will be suffering some sort of poisoning from lack of resources ,or will be dead .
I’m probably much older than most of you commenting I’m over 60 so I come from a pre propoganda pre computer pre support system .
It means I can read a map find food in a hedgerow repair a bike make a quid go a long way snare animals to eat ..
All you lot can think about is paying for something in an artificial system that is designed to ensnare the unsuspecting .
Fools and their money easily parted.
Cash in your pocket not plastic you can’t spend plastic if the system locks out .

That said, even cash would be worthless in many a survival scenario.

More predictions of armageddon? It’s not the end of the world.

Christopher Manning says:
18 June 2019

You put forward a strong argument. Thank you

I remember may years ago the Banks introduced us to Credit Cards and urged us to use them.
Then it was Debit cards. This was all to suit the Banks. Now when many of us have joined the card users the Banks want to get rid of them and they have shut all our local Banks. To make matters worse Cash Machines are also being removed from many locations.
It is back to the old times when money was kept under the mattress where it did not do the banks any good or earn the owners ay interest.
Without cash the Banks will have a lean time. Try not to deposit any cash/monies/etc in the Banks for as long as you possibly can. Also bear in mind the rates of interest you get as opposed to the rates of interest the Banks charge YOU for loans.

Today 16:24
I remember may years ago the Banks introduced us to Credit Cards and urged us to use them.
Then it was Debit cards. This was all to suit the Banks. Now when many of us have joined the card users the Banks want to get rid of them and they have shut all our local Banks. To make matters worse Cash Machines are also being removed from many locations.
It is back to the old times when money was kept under the mattress where it did not do the banks any good or earn the owners ay interest.
Without cash the Banks will have a lean time. Try not to deposit any cash/monies/etc in the Banks for as long as you possibly can. Also bear in mind the rates of interest you get as opposed to the rates of interest the Banks charge YOU for loans.

Anything that helps to reduce the chance of being ripped by Cowboy Tradesmen.

Definitely CARD for me.

In my experience, those who struggle with budgeting really need cash. It’s only when you part with something you can see, that you realise its value. When you hand a debit or a credit card over as part of a transaction, it’s just a bit of plastic and visually you do not see what you are spending. If you have, say, just £30 left in your wallet to live on for the week, then you value it so much more and think long and hard before spending it. I’m a CAP (Christians against Poverty) Money Coach and the CAP system whereby you use cash to manage your finances has helped so many people see the importance of valuing your cash.

I think we need a mixed economy with long-term legal guarantees of access to, and acceptance of, both cash and cards, watches and other unheard of technologies. Younger generations used to technology will become more predominant, and mobile communications (G4, G5 etc). But there will always be some people and locations where electronic payment is physically impossible, and cash is the only method, at least for the next few decades, as cash gradually declines. I suggest that the legal guarantees should be revised once a decade to establish whether they are still relevant.

Gerry says:
18 June 2019

Why are Train Operating Companies effectively allowed to ban the 1.5 million unbanked people (and those who cannot remember their PIN) from travelling? Many unstaffed stations have Ticket Vending Machines that refuse to accept cash: board a train and you’re liable to be hit with a Penalty Fare or prosecution simply because they’ve installed The Wrong Kind of TVM.

If TOCs choose to boost their profits by closing their ticket offices, they should be obliged to offer cash TVMs or provide a facility for passengers to pay on the train or at their destination. Many stations have cash TVMs installed outside, so security is not an excuse.

The same applies to public telephone boxes. Many of these (especially in rural areas) are now “card only” and people without debit/credit cards are also the people most likely to want to use public telephone boxes. Once a box is switched to “card only” the usage drops like a stone so BT can then claim the box is not being used and apply to remove it.

Our local Pay and Display car park has stopped accepting coins – card or phone app only. For 50p. Ludicrous. We should have the option to pay cash in such situations. I appreciate it costs money to collect, but the payments should be sufficient to recover the cost. Is that subsidising those who want to use cash, or simply being fair to all?

Gerry says:
18 June 2019

Isn’t it illegal to charge more for credit card payments?

Gerry – Card surcharges are no longer allowed.

Malcolm – That’s how I felt when cash was banned on London Transport. I’m happy to use a card but it’s ridiculous to be forced to do so if you don’t have one for any reason.

A related problem is that many bank cash machines no longer have a facility for topping up pay-as-you-go mobile phones. NatWest and Nationwide have recently dropped this facility. Barclays and TSB are still providing it but how long will this last?

Thanks for letting us know, Carp. When I regularly used a PAYG phone I found topping up at an ATM most convenient. At least we can still buy vouchers and type in 16 digit numbers. 🙁

I can top up from a credit or debit card by phone.