UK's cash system could 'collapse in a decade' without legislation

19 February 2020

The Government has been urged to bring in laws to protect cash access for consumers

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The UK cash system could collapse within a decade unless government legislation is introduced to protect it, a review panel has warned.

Panel members from the Access to Cash Review are urging the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak to introduce legislation to protect cash access for the most vulnerable people in society.

The independent review, commissioned by ATM provider Link, was set up to examine the implications of the UK’s shift towards digital payments.

The panel members say that while progress has been made in the 12 months since the original report was published, the problem is getting worse for consumers.

Natalie Ceeney, independent chair of the Access to Cash Review, says: “The UK is fast becoming a cashless society – without knowing what this really means for consumers or for the UK economy. 

“Many people may want a completely digital future, but we need to make sure that this shift doesn’t leave millions behind or put our economy at risk.”

The review forecast that the country could be a cashless society by 2035, with cash only used in one in every 10 transactions. However, it now expects the UK to hit this point by 2030.

Over the past year, 13% of all free to use UK ATMs have closed, while the number of ATMs charging has increased from 7% to 25% - costing customers £29 million more in fees to withdraw their own cash.

Barclays also announced that it was stopping withdrawals from post offices, but this decision was reversed after the bank came under intense public pressure.

The group believes that the Government needs to legislate and give regulators the powers they need to force banks to provide suitable cash access to their customers. 

Ceeney says: “Regulators currently don’t have the tools that they need to ensure that everyone who needs cash can get it.  Now is the time for government to protect cash and allowing us to look ahead to how we can prepare for a digital future which includes everyone.”

Initiatives

There are growing concerns that the move towards a cashless society too quickly could leave millions struggling.

Even though the use of cards and electronic payments is increasing, cash is still a necessity for eight million people.

The Access to Cash Review warns that if Britain becomes a cashless society the elderly and disabled could lose their independence, while rural communities could also be threatened.

There have been some industry initiatives, such as the ‘request an ATM’ service and cashback at local shops.

However, experts believe this will not be enough to reduce the impact of cash machine and bank closures.

Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, says: “The cash network has already been dramatically eroded, and unless urgent action is taken in the Budget, it’s clear that it will crumble completely.

“Some industry-led initiatives are encouraging, but they cannot stem the tide of bank branch and cash machine closures alone, and without legislation many more communities will be cut off from cash or forced to pay hefty fees to access their own money.”

A UK Finance spokesperson says: “The banking and finance industry recognises the importance of ensuring cash remains free and widely available for those that continue to need it and has introduced a number of measures to achieve this.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach however and understanding the needs of local communities is critical.”

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