/ 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?


A problem I have encountered with the bank since Covid is they won’t take bags of change. They have said if I had a bill to pay and insignificant funds in my bank account they would accept bags of change . The problem is my husband who died a few weeks ago had a lot of change and I would have liked to deposit it into my account.

Lesley – I don’t understand the reason for this restriction. Banks have automatic coin-counting machines and there is no need for any human contact with the coins. It could be to do with the current surplus of change that has accumulated because of the huge rise in on-line and contactless transactions in recent months for some reason and the reduced demand from traders for cash floats.

Really it’s a problem for the executor or administrator of your late husband’s estate but if that includes you we are no further forward. I can only suggest you spend it in small amounts in local shops or markets using the higher values first. Many supermarkets have a coin-changing machine which, for a small deduction, gives vouchers that can be spent in the store. Unfortunately, even pay-&-display parking machines will only take small values in coin. Pre-Covid, pubs would readily accept coins but they have gone cashless as far as possible now.

See also:-https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/54201640

leslie banham says:
20 September 2020

to rely on one system of payment electronically is dangerous-we must have the cash alternative as well.it will only take a rogue country to shut the internet down which will cause mayhem,then what? this is not impossible,after all who could have predicted the mayhem covid has caused nationally and internationally

Leslie Banham is right. It is the height of folly to marginalise cash – which seems to be a step towards its eventual eradication. All the eggs in one electronic basket leaves us hostage to rogue states or individuals and reduces the control we have in accessing our own money. If the system collapses people will be powerless unless they can access cash. It is not inconceivable that hostile actions can incapacitate the whole virtual banking system – the NHS has been targetted in the past and only a couple of weeks ago Newcastle University’s entire IT system was paralysed by ransom ware. Already there are numerous problems with credit card fraud, hacking and increasingly sophisticated scams affecting online banking. If we entrust our money to a virtual piggy bank we may find that it contains nothing more than thin air. Furthermore, many people – waiting staff, hairdressers etc – rely on cash tips to bolster poor wages, and others – market traders, window cleaners, gardeners etc who also rely on cash payments.

Cash belongs to the individual to manage as they wish and we all need to be able to decide how to do this. Cash forms part of an ancient bartering system where goods are traded between two parties. At one time it would have been some eggs for some apples or somesuch, later tokens (coins/paper IOU’s) became accepted to make trading easier and allow people obtain the things they actually required thus expanding the marketplace. Cash must remain as part of the monetary system albeit co-existing with other forms of payments in the global monetary system. There is no need and indeed it must not be totally replaced by offerings from the 3rd party financial world whose only aim is to make a living out of our daily working lives by charging a fee every time we want to make any kind of financial transaction. The next logical step for them is to start to take control of interest rates. We all know what happens when financial systems fail!

Cash is something we should be free to own, exchange and manage without interference from the techno giants or government who are seeking to benefit from digital cash. It is needed for the emergency when a card does not work , when a cashpoint is down, when you dont have access to a computer . There is also the pleasure of handing over a birthday card to a niece of grandson with some cash in it, to be able to tip a waiter or delivery person/ hotel staff for good service , to teach children the value of cash and see a piggy banks contents grow with pocket money or odd job rewards. It has been part of our society fore thousands of years and should not be taken away without our consent. If so , this would turn us into digital slaves . It belongs to us. there should always be choice. Small businesses rely on cash and should not have to pay a third party to manage transactions for them when already they pay taxes and often it is the emptying of pockets that build up the jar of cash to treat oneself to our coffees or other indulgences in the week for those of us without millions in the bank!

Linda – That is why the government pledged to protect the availability of cash and investigate ways of improving access to it in small communities. . . . The problem is that, since then, for reasons we all understand, the public has not been using cash on anything like the previous scale: fewer people are going into banks, cash machines are stuffed with money that is not being withdrawn, many traders have switched to contactless payments, and office workers are staying at home so not popping into convenience shops for small purchases. The circulation of cash has therefore ground almost to a standstill – and the Royal Mint has even cancelled plans to mint certain coins because there is no longer a need for them. The question is . . . where do we go from here? The banks can’t be expected to keep maintaining a system that is little used. It is very expensive to do so and will cost us all more in the long run.

Cash may be used in smaller amounts now but will, I believe, recover somewhat when life eventually becomes more normal. But the number of transactions is still significant. Cash will be with us for a long time to come. The problem is how we can provide cash withdrawal facilities to as many as possible nationwide, given that such access costs someone money to provide whether at a bank, a post office, an ATM. I maintain that a UK-wide network of businesses that handle cash could be organised to dispense it to anyone with a bank card for a small fee, either payable by the individual or by their bank, as with the LINK system. That would make cash much more conveniently available to the many who currently are not near a bank, post office, ATM or supermarket.

Assuming the trend for most is to use cash in smaller amounts, those who object to charges could keep a stash at home, free to access and readily available.

We should be able to use OUR cash in any way we choose. Its disgraceful that the authorities appear to take no notice and completely disregard the publics wishes. I my case I was told, by my bank, that they did not want people using cash when paying a bill! I was paying my visa, and as I take the amount for payment from 3 accounts I paid in cash. The teller told me, in a stern tone, that, “I could have paid the bill from your account here for you.” I told her she couldn’t as some of the cash had been withdrawn days ago from my husbands account. My husband was waiting in our car for me. Do these people not realise that it’s OUR money, not theirs and we should be free to use it as we see fit and whatever way we wish!

June – The bank staff’s manner might have been brusque and disobliging – over which you have the right to complain to the manager – however I expect they were trying to be helpful and make banking easier for you but were unaware of the arrangements that you had to make for paying the bill. It possibly is bank policy to encourage customers to use cashless facilities so far as possible but they must keep existing methods open for those customers who wish to use them.

On occasions, I still pay by cheque, which is a good old fashioned method.

But cash is best, if you need to make untraceable anonymous payments.

Latest news from the BBC is here:-https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54253128

Thanks for that reference, Derek. I hadn’t spotted that news item.

I was surprised to read that around eight million people are reliant on the use of notes and coins. I have a feeling that number will not diminish much over time as people live longer or grow old and join the ranks, so the banks had better realise that cash is here to stay and they will have to handle it whether they like it or not.

It is interesting how towns are treated differently by the banks. Ampthill in Bedfordshire was quoted in the article. It has a population of over 8,000 but no banks left. I was in Cromer on the north Norfolk coast recently and noticed there was a full deck of banks and plenty of cash machines and the population is similar to Ampthill’s; it is swelled by an influx of holidaymakers in the summer months but I am surprised it makes that much difference. No town should be left without a bank.

One village that I know very well operates a Post Office for an hour and a half each Monday in the village hall. The village hall would be a good site for an ATM because the nearest ATM is at a filling station about five miles away by road. The village shop is too small.

The reason that some towns have been left without a bank whereas others like ours are well supplied is that the regulator has not placed requirements and it is left up to the companies to decide. This has to change. As John says, no town should be without a bank. In my view, a single bank should provide basic services for customers of other banks.

Although I am very much in favour of retaining cash, thanks to coronavirus I have not used cash since before lockdown. I had started using mobile banking early in the year and it has proved much simpler to use than online banking. It takes a matter of seconds to check my account balance or make a payment. I wanted to order a cheque book, so had to use online banking for that, but that is only the second time I have done so in the last six months. Apart from the time saving, being able to pay someone when away from home is useful.

Which? responds to new pilot schemes to help boost access to cash
23 September 2020


It would be very helpful if Which? gave links to the information on which their press release is based so we could discuss the topic in Convos. I get these press releases emailed to me so don’t understand why background information is not provided.

This is one link I found. https://communityaccesstocashpilots.org/
A number of solutions are being considered; a list is given under their press release tab for 23/9. Many have been suggested in Convos; for example “Widespread ‘cashback’ from local stores, restaurants and pubs – as well as from PayPoint counters, and new app-based digital services – to widen the options for people to get cash locally, and to help business reduce their own costs of depositing cash.
I note Which? are not represented on this organisation. I hope they communicate with them.

Denise says:
27 September 2020

My son’s bank card does not allow him to pay in store, he has to draw out cash to pay for anything.

Roberto Duvallo says:
3 October 2020

Tesco in my local area have converted all the self service tills to accept only card. Clients who are willing to pay by cash have been forced to queue to the till serviced by a Tesco member of staff. This policy is unfair and clearly discriminate against customers who prefer to pay by using cash.

Susan Croft says:
19 October 2020

Making people pay by card iS dictating and discriminating against people who want to pay by cash

Laura says:
23 October 2020

I’m a PA for a lady with a learning disability, she only has cash no card no mobile. Totally discriminatory that she can’t pay for her coffee when she visits places. It’s robbing her of her independence 😡

Philip says:
26 October 2020

In order to pay for real world things we need a material form of money. Reliance upon electronic payments, like chip cards or phone apps, not only robs people of choice in how to pay but also compromises their liberties; it places too much trust in both technology and the operators who provide access to these innovations. What happens when your card gets scratched, or your phone can’t connect? What if you don’t own a smartphone, or don’t trust contactless payment methods? Our ability to access our own savings will be dangerously compromised in a cashless society. And although not a royalist, I think it’s disrespectful to our Queen for cash to be quietly and systematically removed from circulation.

Philip, I agree that it is good to be able to choose between different methods of payment.

But without a working card, how does one obtain cash in this day and age?

Good point, Derek. But don’t tell me it’s no longer possible to present a personal cheque made out to cash at your own bank branch! I haven’t done it for a very long time, but wasn’t aware the facility had been withdrawn. They would be bound to ask for some form of identification, of course, but I hope it’s still possible as a last resort. Some of the younger tellers might not be familiar with the process, perhaps, and would have to consult a senior colleague – or even ask Mr Mainwaring to attend to the esteemed customer.

I think you’ll find Mr Mainwaring retired some years ago. Last time I was there, Mr Pike was Branch Manager.

jane mountain says:
28 October 2020

The attempt to move towards a Cashless Society is definitely not something we should be fighting for. we must always have the option to use Cash when in many cases not only is this the only option but the Peoples’ choice.

Gary Walker says:
28 October 2020

For years, I have been using Boots stores to print off photos from their printers. However, only last week, I found that the printer had been replaced by a card only operated printer! These new card operated machines are now in all Boots stores, and are operated by a company called Cewe!

I have never had the need to ever use credit cards, and have always paid cash!

This new change gives me no choice, and indeed, should be illegal!

I have had to travel to another town, just to find a photo shop that still accepts cash!

I am now having to get a credit card, so I can get prints done locally, but that is very difficult and time-consuming!

Of course, this change was brought in sudd, and without any warning!

An email from Which:
Thousands of people have been prevented from making cash payments, as the coronavirus pandemic further threatens the viability of Britain’s cash system.

A whopping 43% of people who told us they’d been unable to pay with cash said they didn’t have another way of paying. We’ve heard from people unable to pay for food and medicine – with many left feeling frustrated, embarrassed or anxious as a result.

Some of the most vulnerable in society rely on cash everyday, it’s vital that both access to cash, and the option for people to use it doesn’t simply vanish.

I presume that the risk of transmitting coronavirus on cash is being given as the reason why cash payments are being refused. So far I have not seen any evidence that people are being infected as a result of handling cash. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that being close to other people indoors can cause infection.

ian dabbs says:
28 October 2020

In london you have to download an app to pay for parking in some boroughs do you really want your smartphone clogged up with dozens of theres apps from dozens of different London Boroughs. who need passwords too

Andrea Crosby says:
28 October 2020

I intend to boycott any shop that refuses to accept or makes it really difficult to use cash.And I shall be making my feelings known both in the shop and to the powers that be.

It is too easy with spending on a card to overspend.With cash it helps to manage outgoings makes it more immediate to control And cash is ideal for small transactions.

According to Which?, a whopping 43% of people who told us they’d been unable to pay with cash said they didn’t have another way of paying. 43% of an unknown quantity makes it difficult to grasp the scale of the problem. I certainly think shops and other places that provide immediate services should always provide a cash alternative to card payment, and there should be no surcharge for cash nor discount for cards. But it would help the campaign to have more meaningful statistics.

Quite right to challenge what looks like it may be a misleading statistic. According to the press release ”Nearly 2,500 people responded to the consumer champion’s cash acceptance tool, launched in mid-September, which asked people to report their payment problems.”. So it looks as though the statistic is derived from a selected group of respondents who were all known to have had payment problems. If so, I’d question its value.