/ 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?

Chris Thomas says:
23 April 2020

The broad assumption is everyone in the UK is a fully-paid up member of consumer society with all the assumptions that entails and a wallet full of cards to ease them into a lifelong debt habit. I have a single debit card and have never had a credit card. I rely on CASH to make all my offline purchases but no-one wants my cash any more. This is precisely the excuse the banks and government have wanted to abruptly change to a cashless society with a guaranteed increase in fraud and thievery, and in governmental monitoring and surveillance

Chris, Sorry but having worked in the payments business for over 40 years (working with, not for the Banks) the two big challenges and expenses are cheques and cash. The sooner the former, in todays market place, is stopped the better.(You have to pay cheques into the bank and then wait for funds to clear) As far as cash is concerned, at this point in time there is a real covid problem with handling cash (germs being passed) beyond that cash is a big expense to businesses because of potential theft, the cost of paying it into the bank, not just the charges the banks made but the time out and security of staff taking funds to the bank and worse the risk of collecting cash at ATM’s.
I also think you are not totally correct on credit cards as the use of them gives you extra protection (look at Section 75 protection) and provided you set up to pay the balance in full EVERY month it costs no more and often you can get rewards for using a particular card.
You are perhaps also wrong on fraud and theft, of course it happens much to the delight of our negative press and media, but electronic payments, used properly can have a significant impact on its reduction.

Hi Roger – Thanks for dropping in to give views from the business perspective.

I can understand that continued use of cash is more expensive for business and that at present there is concern that use of cash could spread the virus.

I do take exception to your suggestion that cheques should be phased out. I work for a charity and most of the donations we receive are in cash or cheques. We encourage electronic payments where possible but that won’t work for casual donations. (Where I volunteer were are outdoors and there is often no mobile signal, so card and phone payments won’t work.)

I strongly agree with your advice about credit cards. We discuss Section 75 frequently on Which? Conversation. Credit cards are extremely useful in managing money and helping to avoid punitive overdraft charges and I wholeheartedly support your advice to pay the balance in full by direct debit, also to avoid punitive interest charges. Perhaps this should be the default when new cards are issued.

No-one would doubt that cash is a security risk but there are many Conversations about scams and people losing large sums of money. Although I believe that it’s not difficult to avoid becoming a victim I do understand why a significant number of people feel comfortable with cash or don’t feel comfortable using some or all of cards, contactless cards, phone payments and online banking.

I suspect that mobile banking with limits to the size of transactions could win over many of those who feel more secure with cash, just as PAYG phones remove the possibility of large mobile phone bills.

I cannot accept the argument that because cash and cheques are a big expense for banks they should be abolished. People’s money is the business of retail banking so it goes with the territory that they have to look after it, supply it and provide it on demand, and also facilitate the exchange of money through instruments such as cheques. Over the course of the year I receive quite a few payments from businesses and would be reluctant to give them all my bank details so they could transfer funds electronically. I will gladly accept cheques and cash.

If cash and cheques are taken out of the system there will no longer be much need for any bank branches at all; they have already closed far too many branches and removed too many ATM’s.

Lots of things are expensive for businesses, like wages, and energy, and computing but the basic stock in trade is essential, and in the case of banks that is money in its various forms. I would venture to say that it is not the use of cash and cheques that has impacted on retail banking profits over recent years but bad lending decisions and the miss-selling of personal protection insurance. Investment banking is another tale of woe. Banks need to put their own house in order before making life even more difficult for their customers. Most industries treat customers as a precious resource to be nurtured; banks seem to consider them a nuisance.

Paula says:
27 April 2020

I have to thank my bank for texting me , asking if I’d just bought an item costing £99 from an online store, I said I hadn’t so the payment didn’t go through. This made me check my account daily. I received a new card after this. I then started buying items from a famous online store, they contacted me for updated card details as I’d now got this new card, I did this & received my goods. A few days later I got an email purportedly from this company asking for my updated details, I thought , as I’d ordered more goods that my details were required again. This email looked genuine & had a button to press to enter details, luckily it didn’t work, thank goodness, I then realised the scam because the spelling incorrectly read ‘ cutsomer ’ details. I pride myself on my vigilance but was sadly brought to earth . I haven’t lost any money & will forensically read emails many times over now

A few weeks ago, a scammer pretending to be Amazon customer service asked me to check my details, and even asked me to look at some security site showing some details picking up from my transactions. I realised after a short time, that I could have been scammed. I immediately went to my bank and they froze my debit card. They also said for me to check with Amazon for any unexpected action on my account- I wasn’t sure if I had an account! I had to help a friend buy something. Amazon closed my account immediately, so I was protected. So any calls like that, hang up,don’t give any info, and check with Amazon and you bank!

I had my Barclaycard Account hacked last month, fraudsters attempted to purchase over £400 worth of goods online, Thankfully I responded to an alert from Barclaycard Fraud Team in seconds preventing the purchase and locking out the scammers from my account

My wife sent some money to our granddaughter, but she had closed the account and now had a new one with the same bank. My wife’s bank (Natwest) said they were unable to recover the money even though they had returned two other smaller payments from the same account.

NatWest will not reissue the same account number, so no-one can gain access to the money sent to the old account. However, NatWest keep old account records for a very long time, as much as 12 years, so they certainly can trace the old account* and the money paid into it. Whatever NatWest may choose to day, they have got the money and so must give it back.
*They can trace old accounts from the account name, they don’t even need the account number.

Izzy says:
29 April 2020

Natwest are a very unhelpful bank in my opinion, very quick to take your money but not so quick to return it. My daughters account has been hacked and her card cloned. They were very reluctant to help at all. In my opinion being able to just pay for up to £40 oh goods using contactless is hardly secure, especially in this day and age.

brendan says:
4 May 2020

Buses and some retailers are now using the emergency to sneak in “card only” method of payment. We can shun the Stores but we have to use buses. This should be stopped now !

Disagree as my earlier comment to Chris.
Why should bus drivers have to handle cash apart from the risk of theft there is now the increased risk of passing on an infection.
If you don’t have or don’t want a bank card get a pre paid card.

In my experience, only a tiny minority of bus passengers are paying with cash, mainly young people and occasional passengers and those who, for whatever reason, don’t have or need a payment card, so it is hardly worth getting difficult over it. Most of those who do pay with cash are buying day passes or other facilities which means they don’t have to pay cash on future journeys.

Once life returns to normal we need to get more people out of their cars and onto public transport so all forms of payment should be welcomed. Regular travellers and those eligible for concessionary fares will naturally prefer to use cards so the problem is minuscule and the amount of cash handling is negligible. I have noticed that the bus drivers in my area are wearing gloves.

Our local buses accept cash. Few use it, so the amount involved is hardly likely to be a security risk. By all means encourage users to use a payment card but please accommodate the minority who want to pay by cash.

I hope they will also be wearing masks come 15th June along with their passengers.

Using cash on a bus does slow down its progress. It seems to me if you can buy a travel card with cash from shops for example that goes a good way towards overcoming the problem.

simon says:
27 May 2020

I am fed up with those; in power sitting in their” Ivory towers” Making decisions that affect those at the
bottom of the pile.
I and my work colleagues; are all; still, paid our minimum wage; by cash in pay packets !!!
There are still people who rely on cash for day to day living expenses, But bank and shop executives are
still saying “nobody is paid by cash anymore”.
Just because we are in a minority and not wealthy or influential;
we are not “nobodies”!!!

Ask the company to pay into your Bank or Building society and then you can have a ‘touch and go card’. Much easier than cash and no time is wasted waiting for change.

I have all the necessary facilities for complete cash avoidance but still carry cash and use it quite a lot for small purchases, spontaneous charitable donations, various impromptu expenditures, and so on. I have never considered the time taken to do such business to be wasted. Perhaps society needs to rebalance its priorities away from the mercenary towards a more amicable way of living. I think we would all benefit.

I absolutely agree, John. There are still people without bank accounts, either by choice or because they are not allowed them. I can understand why others are wary of using credit cards for various reasons, not least the risk of landing up in debt. You could lose the content of a wallet or purse but if you have cards or an online bank account, there are risks that may be difficult to relate to.

Many (young) children won’t have bank accounts. Prepaid cards are one way but two things about handling money are, I believe, it gives a good sense of value – maybe makes you think harder about whether you really want something when your cash physically disappears, and it helps you learn to count and do arithmetic.

Ray says:
7 June 2020

We need to keep a cash society as twice i have been scammed by my card in Aldi , so Now pay my bills & food bills by cash , my elderly mother also prefer’s to pay her way by cash which also gives her that freedom to go out & look around shops & also chat to other folk on the way , why should we be dictated to by the corrupt elites to take control of our lives & money

frederick childs says:
7 June 2020

If someone responds to a scam message and is taken in by the message there should be assistance from the banks to stop any payments being taken from their accounts immediately they are informed by the bank member, even if the payment has been already taken from the account. May I suggest that the payment attracts a cooling-off period from the time the member pays for about 4 hours before the payment is activated by the bank

If someone receives a scam message by text or e-mail or via social media they have all the time in the world to stop and think about it and make up their mind whether or not to respond to it. Why should banks be required to put a stop on their account and hold the payment up by four hours in case the account holder has second thoughts? I would not object to allowing customers who wish to have that sort of facility paying a service charge for having it applied to their account so the operational costs fall on them rather than across all the bank’s customers. People have to take responsibility for their own decisions and act accordingly; that is the only way people will build up their own defences and protect themselves.

Reducing fraud would be a very good reason. I agree with Frederick and although I have never been scammed I would opt for a delay. If payments are automated I cannot see why there would be a significant increase in cost but I am happy to learn.

Bearing in mind that the withdrawal is not being activated by the authentic customer but by a fraudster, I am struggling to understand the mechanics of the unauthorised withdrawal process.

If someone falls for a scam message and reveals their bank account details I am not sure how the customer can stop and trap any withdrawal unless they have contacted their bank immediately afterwards and even then it could be too late. In other cases the details are harvested for later use or sold on to other criminals for their use; how would it be possible to block any such withdrawals temporarily. The person scammed is unlikely to know the details of the receiving account for the money taken fraudulently.

If this were to apply to all electronic funds transfers whether generated by the customer or illegitimately then I feel there should be an opt-out facility for those who wish to execute the payment without any delay. When I make a transfer using the Faster Payments Service there is an opportunity to select the timing of the transfer; criminals who have hacked into a bank account will probably choose the same day option.

I agree, John. People do need to take responsibility for their lives and actions. I wonder how many people who are susceptible to scams will realise within 4 hours what has happened.

However I think we should have features in online banking as options to help account holders who may be more vulnerable. These could include making all online payments delayed by a fixed time, putting a chosen limit on all online transactions, limiting the daily number of transactions, requiring a second authentication for any transaction or above a given value by a nominated person. These options could be the account holder’s choice, chosen by a family member or imposed by the bank. I don’t see any cost involved.

John – In the Convos about scams, some people have reported that they have realised that they have been scammed when they put the phone down. I expect that others have been concerned and had their fears confirmed as a result of a web search or a phone call. With a short delay (Frederick suggests four hours), that could reduce the number of successful scams and therefore the amount of crime.

Consumers are allowed a cooling off period if they have entered into a contract, very necessary with pushy salespeople pushing them to sign-up on the day.

Sometimes it seems to me that we can have too much protection for consumers. I have never understood why online traders are obliged to provide a full refund if customers order goods and then simply change their mind. In the same circumstances a business would be charged a restocking fee.

Malcolm – I would be very happy if customers were given choices as you suggest. Thankfully, mobile phone service providers have made it possible for customers to prevent themselves from accidentally exceeding their data and call allowances, and even advertising that this facility exists. In the past it was necessary to use PAYG to be sure that you could not face a large bill.

The time to do the web search and make the phone call is before responding to the potential fraud, not after. However the delay would help some in some instances but, as I suggested above, could (should) be a choice. Presumably the delay would have to be applied to all online payments and there will be many for Which this would not be sensible. Suppose you are paying for a product or service you need immediately?

That’s easy in some circumstances, for example if you receive a scam email and you can confirm that it is a known scam. It could be harder if you receive a scam phone call, like some of those featured in the magazine and in Which? Convo.

The sooner that positive action is taken to fight back against scammers the better. You and I may never have been scammed but I wonder how much we pay indirectly towards dealing with crime.

Wavechange – [Responding to your post addressed to me] I agree that there could be a problem with money withdrawals activated during a telephone conversation . . . but I took that to be outside the context of Frederick’s comment which referred only to messages and I clarified that by identifying messages by text or e-mail or via social media. Such scam attempts will give the recipient as much time as they need to check the authenticity of the message if they are tempted by it and to decide whether or not to respond [which could, of course, be by phone conversation].

Lists of known scams are available on the internet, plenty of warnings have been given not to act on impulse prompted by an unexpected phone call or other form of contact or from an unknown party, and some banks [perhaps most] produce guidance on how to avoid scams and draw attention to it on their websites.

I appreciate that many vulnerable people can easily be duped into acting on a scam telephone call and I agree that there certainly is a need to find a technical solution to that particular source of fraud, and I suspect that solution lies within the depths of telecommunications technology and switching centres to prevent number spoofing and other ways of making fraudulent calls. Waiting for the technical solution to be found and rolled out will take forever, so relatives, friends and carers need to be aware of the vulnerabilities, organise the installation of programmable caller-restricted phones, and set them up for the person concerned.

Stopping the payment after the fraudster has committed the crime seems to me to be going about it the wrong way round, especially since neither the identity of the receiving account will be known nor the perpetrator of the fraudulent withdrawal [who is pretending to be the genuine customer] – or are the banks expected to intercept all withdrawals against every personal customer account and pause them for four hours [standing orders and direct debits excepted]? If the bank made a mistake and let a payment through without holding it for a period there would probably be a dispute over liability, as well as problems getting through to the bank at certain times of day or during busy periods – and doing that in itself would involve a verification process that might fluster some customers.

Unluckily in this life misfortunes happen and the only defences are alertness and common sense. Those who lack those attributes need protection but I think it should be closer to home than at their bank.

Thanks for coming back to discuss this, John. I cannot begin to understand why some people are so easily taken in by scams. Why should anyone, for example, ever believe that anyone is going to give them money? If only everyone behaved responsibly and cautiously it would not be worth scammers’ time to engage in illegal activities.

I am concerned that we need to achieve a balance in consumer protection. I would like to know more about banks refunding money in ‘no blame’ cases such as APP scams. Fair enough if there is genuinely no blame but I don’t want the rest of us subsidising other people’s carelessness, which means looking at cases individually and carefully. Many of us were not impressed by how mis-sold PPI cases were handled and I wonder how much of our money was used to pay opportunists who claimed in the hope of receiving a payout. I believe that we need compromises that offer appropriate protection and recognising that consumers must take some responsibility for their actions. In the discussions about parking fines it is obvious that some people take the risk of overstaying or otherwise contravening the rules.

Scams are widely recognised as becoming more sophisticated and the need for consumer protection is well established. Perhaps regular payees could be whitelisted for immediate payment but I would prefer having a delay before large payments were actioned.


I thought Malcolm’s suggestion for a number of optional control features on payment transfers was a sensible way forward. That would give those who want it or need it varying degrees of control at different levels.

I would be more than happy for limits to be put on accounts and relaxed if customers prove to be responsible.

There are various other ways in which the customer could be more in control of potential risk. Although I am happy with using a contactless card and have never had any unauthorised withdrawals I would prefer to be able to choose the number of transactions or total amount that could be spent within a day.

Perhaps we could have a separate conversation topic on on-line banking, credit and debit cards to explore options that could be attached to accounts for the benefit of the vulnerable, the cautious and others. Maybe something Which? could then pursue.

It’s not a crime to steel your identity, see recently passed law. No wonder fraud is rife. The police/action fraud are not interested and will not investigate as they cannot cope with the amount of fraud.

Winston Mccarthy says:
28 June 2020

I have been scamed via Facebook , makes payment via HSBC they did nothing to get me refund why is Facebook and HSBC not being held accountable

My elderly dad has just been convinced to move from BT to a new phone company who have promised to reduce his phone costs. What they havent disclosed is how much they will actually be charging my dad and the money this so-called company have taken from other elderly people who they prey on. How can they get away with this? The banks were unable to help despite me asking to stop payments. They said that this wasnt possible until the payment had been made! They are no help and it’s so unfair. More has to be done!!!

Jan Middlemiss says:
27 July 2020

I am number dyslexic so online banking is impossible for me. Has anyone given this disability a thought ?

Hi Jan, a quick Internet search showed me that several major UK banks are aware of both dyslexia and dyscalulia.

That said, depending on your specific circumstances, the extent to which they can help you will vary.

I think I am a tiny bit dyslexic myself and I have a work colleague who is distinctly dislexic. That used to be readily apparent in his written work, but now is barely noticeable. Over the years, I think he has developed working methods that help him to overcome the challenges that he faces.

I also have some colleagues who are red/green colourblind. Working with them has taught me not to make presentations where red and green are intended to be seen as distinct contrasting items.

Cash has a prominent and necessary place in society. It is not fair, right or proper to coerce people into a cashless regime taking away the rights of many. A mixture of cash, card and cheque is ideal. Leave “well enough” alone!

living in cashless country i find it hard to keep track also living away from towns we have to use cash

Our small Cheshire town has, over the past two years, lost all our banks as well as our post office and one of our two building societies. Many older people now have to use buses to travel six miles to nearest facilities.
The answer is not telephone or internet banking which banks and building societies encourage us to use.
Sometimes it is important to have face to face contact in a branch, Covid not withstanding.
These companies do not deserve our custom!

Steve – The riddle is that because people have been withdrawing their direct face-to-face custom the banks and building societies have been compelled to reduce their operating costs. Unfortunately, i think it is permanent now.

Nadia says:
31 August 2020

Banks should do more to protect us rather than just asking generic questions, have you authorised the payment. I wouldn’t mind if the bank contacted me and said please tell us the organisation you’re transferring the money to and what you think the nature of their business is. This way bank can do background checks and they could easily tell push payment victims that you’re actually sending a payment to a photographer for example and this is not your solicitor. Remember to contact your solicitor on the phone and then call us back. How hard is that for the bank to do??

Nadia says:
31 August 2020

Bank should actually hold the payment and get the customer to confirm they’ve spoken to their solicitor over the phone or met in person before releasing large funds to hackers account. I definitely think bank can do more. They’re familiar with these scams, customers aren’t!

Those are interesting suggestions Nadia but I cannot see the banks volunteering to provide such an intervention service for nothing. There are millions of transactions every day and personal accounts are not actively monitored to spot a misdirected payment. How would a bank know you wanted to pay the solicitor and not be sending money to a private account? They might in the future if they are required to check the name of the payee as well as the account and sort code numbers but scammers will no doubt find ways round that.

The banks place warnings and instructions on the relevant parts of their websites to help people avoid being tricked, they do keep a watch on suspicious bank accounts and those under investigation so that they can trap payments and contact the customer, and they provide alternative payment services with built in delays and security checks but they are chargeable. I would not be in favour of them intercepting payments because sometimes the transfer might be urgent and delay would cause significant inconvenience.

Solicitors also include clear warnings on all their correspondence and invoices not to change the destination of their payments in response to an e-mail and they also state that they will never communicate any change in banking details in an e-mail message. House-buyers have normally made at least one payment to their solicitor before having to transfer a large sum either for the deposit or on completion so they have usually already set up the account and payment details in their on-line banking facility and achieved a successful transfer; they should never change those references. It is very rare for a legitimate bank account to be moved overnight and the process itself is quite time-consuming so it is never a sudden and unplanned event. Solicitors have also had to upgrade their security systems to protect their clients from any hacking activity.

When the new three-part authentication process eventually comes into full operation I think transferring money on-line will be much safer than most other methods.

I live in a medium sized town. NatWest and Lloyd’s have closed down. There are two cash points and a mobile bank comes once a week. However a lot of seniors have to catch the bus to a different town should they wish to attend the bank on any other day

Mark, I guess you are actually quite lucky to get those mobile bank visits. Many places now just have sub-post offices and cash points.

When I’m paying in cheques, I do prefer to do that in person at at a bank, as it seems more secure that mailing cheques in, which I often used to have to do when I was working. My late dad also liked to get his cash from a bank counter. In latter years, he had to hand over his cash point card to make those transactions, so he did eventually realise that he could just as convenienty use cash points, or, even better, shops that did cash back. During his life, he never had any reluctance about paying for anything by credit card though.

My last visit to a proper city bank branch was about a year ago, to pay in some random cheque. It was good to see that a few old fashioned counter positions were still available, to serve those who did not want to tackle any of the vast array of self service machines there. These latter seemed to fill much of the floor space inside the bank. Thankfully, there were also staff available to help with the use of these devices.

But my last actually necessary visit to a bank branch was now almost 10 years ago, when I had to turn up and personally verify my ID, before my savings bank would pay my solicitors with money needed for a house purchase. My girl friend just opened a bank account for her daughter and was able to do it completely on-line. But most of the other competing accounts would have required a branch visit, to turn up in person with ID documents, instead of just uploading images of them. I have found that, if you have a steady hand and a good smartphone camera, you don’t actually need a document scanner to produce acceptable images of passports and such like.