/ 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?


Cash is essential for peoples freedom. A system without cash makes us vulnearable for total control. All of us together can make a difference by paying cash…

I’ve found in different areas outside shops the cash machine will not give money. It is merely a visual disclosure of information or PIN change access. If a shop wont take my cash when offered I will walk out as should others….its the small persons currency in tech town but should be respected for machines can fail, paper doesn’t.

Unfortunately, shouting “Cash is King” doesn’t change anything or protect access to cash or make places accept it. The fact is, most people have switched to paying in other ways for most things, whether on-line or in shops and hospitality venues. That was happening long before we caught the virus. Nevertheless there is still a strong demand for cash for the multitude of little trades and the personal spending that make life worth living, so we need to find a suitable way to use cash and get access to it, but the amount required will be much smaller in the future so its provision could become uneconomical.

The days of lots of extremely expensive and sophisticated dispensing machines along every high street could be over, so more innovative solutions are being explored and the LINK organisation is progressively filling in some of the places now left with very limited [or chargeable] provision after bank branches have closed. Cash by post might be another method in the same way that foreign currency is delivered, but there would no doubt be a service charge.

Many object to paying a service charge for the convenience of them being provided with a hole in the wall dispenser that gives them cash any time of the day or night. I wonder if they would also ask for a rebate for their costs – bus, taxi, petrol, shoe leather – for having to travel to the nearest money box?

Hopefully the current trials will show that cash businesses can successfully dispense cash to people without them having to buy anything, and that we in the UK are free to implement that when we leave the EU – which, apparently, prevents it at the moment. Many many more people than ever before should then be able to access cash conveniently – although not, sadly, in the middle of the night.

I don’t know what proportion of the adult population never use cash or only use it occasionally. As that percentage rises the cost of servicing the remainder through cash machines and alternative outlets will rise on a unit cost basis and people in the cash-free or cash-occasionally categories will question why they should continue to subsidise those who want highly convenient round-the-clock access to cash.

Why should users pay to use a bank ATM when other banking services are free for most normal current accounts? If all banking services were charged at cost that would be fair and might allow interest to be paid to those who maintain a healthy balance.

Yes there are costs of installing and maintaining ATMs but since many small retailers operate ATMs I assume that this makes economic sense. I presume that the reason that we have ATMs is because they are more efficient than manual dispensing of cash. I can remember the ‘bad old days’ of having to queue at the counter in my bank branch. More recently, supermarkets have increasingly encouraged or required customers to use self-service machines that automate the process. Who is going to pay small businesses to provide cash? How much will they charge people who are not customers?

Many of the ATMs that have been removed in recent years have gone as a result of closure of bank branches, creating problems for those in many rural areas. There is still a strong demand for cash and new ATMs have been installed as a result of demand from customers. One of the challenges is to find a suitable site. https://www.link.co.uk/about/news/community-requests-deliver-10m/

I don’t know how many people don’t use cash or do so rarely, John. I believe we should have the choice.

Special bank services are not free of charge and I envisage a time when the provision and stocking of ATM’s at locations other than the banks’ own branches will be regarded as a special service for the small minority of customers who want to use it. If the other sources of ready cash come to pass then the question will not arise. Not only will the frequency of use decline but the average annual amount withdrawn per user will fall substantially making the refilling of remote machines increasingly expensive pro rata.

Unlike for retailers who provide a cash machine in their premises, I can see no advantage to a bank in providing off-site facilities but many disadvantages from crime and security, through cleaning and normal wear-&-tear in exposed positions, to misuse and vandalism.

I am not opposed to all bank services being charged at cost [plus a small profit element]. With interest rates so low at the moment [a fifth of one percent is now a good rate on instant access savings] there would be a nett charge for almost all customers.

I also agree that we should have the choice of using cash or cards, but I am realistic enough to accept that minority choices and premium services come at a price.

People have a choice of free or paid-for television channels so if they want something more to their liking than the standard offering then they will have to pay extra for it. The same with money.

As far as L know all bank ATMs are free to use and the banks pay the fees via the LINK interchange. https://www.link.co.uk/consumers/charges/

Commercially installed ATMs are there to make a profit for their operators. They may attract customers to retailers who install them and are happy to cover the operating costs.

However, when an ATM becomes uneconomic to operate the commercial provider may just close it. LINK has systems in place to protect free-to-use ATMs, to increase the fees the banks pay, where necessary, to keep them open in appropriate area, to look at arranging for new ones in response to public demand or ensuring that there is another source of cash locally.

The situation is changing quite rapidly and we don’t know how and at what rate it will become unsustainable both for the banks and for LINK to continue providing free-to-use ATM’s.

The only times I can remember being charged was commission for buying foreign currency and in connection with a large transfer to buy a house. I have not explored what other services are on offer.

I am not opposed to alternative ways of providing cash, but these need to be in place before ATMs are removed. I appreciate that vandalism can be a problem in some locations but the main reason for the shortage in rural locations seems to be related to the closure of bank branches without an attempt to find an alternative location for an ATM.

Banks obviously need to. operate profitably so in these times of very low interest rates we might all be paying to have a current account, as businesses and charities already do.

With the agreement made between banks and post offices, for them to offer basic banking facilities including cash withdrawals, there are over 11000 extra places to access cash for free.

Many ATM closures have been in places where they were duplicated and the duplicates no longer justified. Not often mentioned when closures are put in the news. I just like to see all the relevant information given.

Malcolm – From what I have seen, bank ATMs are free to use. I presume that the ones that were free and now charge are the ones provided by other businesses.

That’s right, wavechange. As LINK also says, most ATMs are free to the user. It is the banks that pay (or the host).

I agree, whilst I order my shopping and pay by card there are times when I need cash to pay bills.
Taxis, hairdresser, gardener so in my opinion it is essential that we are able to have access to ATM

Vera – It is possible to pay for taxis by card either when pre-booking or at the end of the journey. Many hairdressing establishments accept contactless card payments [indeed, they prefer it]. With home services like gardeners, hairdressers, chiropodists, window cleaners, and so forth they will let you pay by on-line bank transfer; for those sort of traders I pay while they are still at the house and hand them a copy of the payment confirmation.

While I fully support easy access to cash and expect to continue to use it, I do recognise that things are changing fast and we might have to get used to keeping it for those special things and services for which there is no practical alternative [as described by contributors to this and all the preceding Conversations on this topic].The number of ATM’s is almost certain to diminish substantially leaving just an essential handful in most medium sized communities. It is prudent to prepare for those times.

According to this article, the intention is to provide an ATM in every high street: https://www.link.co.uk/about/news/link-access-to-cash-commitment/

We are being forced to increasingly rely on plastic, thus enabling our every move, transaction and location monitored in what is a massive intrusion on our privacy. Banks should not be allowed to have so much power to access personal data about shopping preferences, lifestyle, location, movements, where we’ve been or what we have eaten or our health conditions etc. By paying with cash none of this info is available for anyone to snoop!

Also small traders and private individuals do not have the facilities for processing plastic payments for everything they sell such as at boiot fairs, markets or for second hand items from someone’s home

The next thing will be when plastic is dispensed with and we will move to paying for everything by mobile apps. Banks are already imposing banking apps to replace telephone support and are closing down a huge number of branches.

What next? Are we going to then dispense with mobile apps and be micro-chipoed to use facial or iris recognition to pay for things with computerised recognition systems Do we have any CHOICE or do we sleepwalk into this big brother style of existence, where we are forced to relinquish control over our money and spending, and as a result so much of our personal information. We then spend even more money on protecting ourselves from the invasion of our privacy by using VPNs and web browsers that do not track us?

How long is this ridiculous situation going to continue or can we just go back to a time when life was so much simpler? We simply bought what we liked with the simple exchange of cash for goods without all of the need for technology, cost of broadband, or expensive smart phones or vpns to protect ourselves from this corporate invasion of our lives?

JoHn Brough says:
5 November 2020

Brilliant ! send this article to your MP and all the Newspapers.

Tony says:
30 October 2020

As a women fleeing domestic violence during a pandemic using my card was not an option to get away with my ex partner watching my every move I felt the government let me down not being able to pay for transport in cash I had no other option to go back and suffer more abuse for days I though was never going to end thankfully I’m now back with my parents and safe but where was the thoughts for the vunrable

Lynne says:
30 October 2020

Most charity shops only take cash. Newspapers from local shops (where nothing else bought) take cash and many other small business people. Although I use a card there are many times I would prefer cash especially for small ‘shops’

Down my way, most charity shops take cards and some will request that you use cards rather than banknotes for small items, so they don’t have to give out loads of change.

Keith Turner says:
30 October 2020

has anybody tried to pay for parking with a card i tried and not being very good with technolygy i paid twice for the same period for my daughters car she also paid and when we returned to the car i was greeted by a parking warden about to issue a ticket i must say he was a gentleman and checked with his machine and did not isuee a ticket but i still paid twice for the same peiod i think some of this is good way for companys to make money

Gary says:
31 October 2020

I discovered by accident when I tried to make a small purchase that Sainsburys would not accept cash. I refuse to use my debit card for small purchases and the have to check a very long bank statement. It is only a couple of years ago that retailers were complaining about the fees they had to pay to process small card payments and would not take cards for small transactions. I refuse to use any supplier or retailer who will not accept cash payments. I would normaly use a card for payments over £40.00 but if a busines does not want to take cash for a small transaction then I will not use them for larger transactions. It is time that a “Blacklist” was available so customers could add any busines who refused to accept cash. Most coins contain copper which prevents most bacteria and Viruses living on them. Why can viruses/bacteria live on plastic banknotes and not on plastic countertops, shields, bags, shelves, etc. This is just an excuse for banks, other large conglomerates and our own government to collect details fo what we spend, how we spend it and where we have been. Beware – “Big brother is watching you.”

Dale curtis says:
31 October 2020

Tried to buy a waterproof coat only to find at the till after an 8 minute queue no cash accepted. Could not pay by card as bills coming out with no money going in for another week. Same thing also happened at end of first lock down in DIY store.

Rita says:
1 November 2020

My daughterhad to use her card for me in an electrical store because I only had cash.
If she hadn’t been with me I would have been very embarressed to have been refused my purchase
Our cash is coin of the realm, therefor it is legal legal tender and should not be refused

Covid can be spread through cash so not using it at the current time is a safety measure to protect shop workers and customers.

My mum only uses cash so arranges for other people to buy things for her then a bank transfer reimburses the purchaser. Just common sense in current times really.

Eileen says:
3 November 2020

Last week I was in a local car park, where both payment machines were out of order. There’s a yellow and black sign on the machine stating that you must pay via the “RingGo” parking app if the machines are out of order, or receive a parking fine. I reluctantly used the app. An elderly man also wanted to pay for parking; he did not have a smartphone, so his only choice was to try to find alternative parking.

The attitude of the local council is appalling. It penalises the elderly and those who do not wish to share their bank details with multiple organisations offering parking services.

I queued for 5 mins at top shop brighton to be told I could not use cash next to I will not so amiable

Paul Wakeling says:
3 November 2020

cash should be available to all and cash payments accepted by all business by law some have the only way to pay by cash are the poor and and less fortunate going to be marginalised and plus we have had bank computer crash where cards have not been available to use

Ann Hughes says:
28 November 2020

A car parking scheme local to me takes 70p for a set time. Card payment at the same place £1!

I only use Coin of the Realm, when shopping. No Taxi Driver has refused my money yet !! So, I will carry on using cash as normal. I will not be compelled to use my card to pay for anything.

Personally, I wish cash would be removed altogether. To access it is inconvenient, it is a source of misuse for tax evasion, laundering, untraceable fraud, theft, and an available tender for all types of unscrupulous and illegal activity.
It is the most vulnerable who appear to demand cash and cash machine availability but ironically they are statistically the sector that is most victimized by the unavailable traceability of their scammed misfortunes.
As an 82 year old, I do not see any good reasons or benefits at all for retaining outdated physical cash. Fundamentally I believe, its eradication would resolve many problems and crimes in the world.

John, some do feel as you do but many have expressed very good reasons for retaining cash throughout these Convos.

Personally I doubt whether the scare stories about the demise of cash have any real substance. The government has committed to it and although banks and ATMs are declining, for very understandable reasons in a world of change, trials are underway to provide cash through cash businesses – retailers, cafes, garden centres etc etc – with no requirement to make a purchase. LINK will provide the framework for the banks to pay appropriate fees to the service providers, as they do for ATMs. It is, I believe, a great step forward not only in protecting access to cash but, potentially, making that access far more convenient for far more people than have ever been close to a bank or ATM, even in the golden days.

Ordinary working people were forced to join the Bank and Ecommerce system this makes the banks and employers richer and give them more power over ordinary working people they control the money and if they get their way your hard earned will never touch your hands they will control every monetary aspect of your life.
They should at the very least take responsibility for making and keeping this system safe for us to use.

Josephine Mister says:
4 December 2020

With NO Banks open in our town and the nearest one miles away How is a 90years person
and with only a Landline, going to use on line banking??? . I Thank God for The POST OFFICE
where I can get Cash. Please don’t close them as well. Most places still take cash and only too pleased to take it.

John Taylor says:
4 December 2020

Holmfirth has no banks the post office has closed now ony the yorkshire building society until approximately february when even that will close, despite being famous for last of the summer wine, it also covers a larger area than Huddersfield, is in danger of becoming a ghost town.