Cash use falling as more than half of all UK payments now contactless

4 June 2020

Data from UK Finance shows more than 2.1 million people still use cash every day

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Britain is getting closer to becoming a cashless society, with more people than ever before using contactless payments last year.

More than half of all payments were made by card, according to new figures from banking trade body UK Finance.

Card payments accounted for 51% of all payments for the first time in 2019, while the number of contactless payments across debit and credit cards increased by 16% to 8.6 billion.

The number of people who were not using cash or using it just once a month has more than doubled in two years, from 3.4 million in 2017 to 7.4 million in 2019.

UK Finance says the move by consumers towards these payment methods may have helped prepare them for the changes they now face due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, even though contactless payments are increasing, 2.1 million people are still using cash for their day-to-day shopping, and risk being left behind.

While cash payments fell by 15% to 9.3 billion payments, cash was still the second most frequently-used method, representing a quarter of all payments in 2019.

Impact of coronavirus

This trend will likely continue over the next year due to warnings over the transmission of Covid-19 through the use of physical money.

The contactless limit for card payments was increased by £15 to £45 in April to improve safety by reducing the need for cash to be used in shops.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, says the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to force people onto card payments.

She says: “The number of businesses not accepting cash during the pandemic has skyrocketed, and this must not become a permanent state of affairs. It is essential that proper consideration is given for the many vulnerable people that will be left behind if cash disappears.

“Many older people rely on cash. It helps them budget effectively and is an essential back up if other ways to pay do not work for them. These are the people who need continuing access to a convenient and affordable payment method that they can trust."

Stephen Jones, chief executive of UK Finance, says: “With consumers already using contactless payments and remote banking more than in previous years, these technological advances have allowed many people to shop and make payments safely from home or in store.

“However, we are fully aware that not all customers are digitally-enabled which is why we are working flat out to ensure people have access to cash and everyday banking services remain available to help the country through these difficult times.”

Concerns

The figures will fuel concerns that the elderly and the vulnerable are being left behind as we move towards a cashless society.

According to the Access to Cash Review, Britain could have zero cash use within the next 15 years.

The report warns that the pace of this change could lead to millions of people being excluded from being able to pay for things in the way they want or have to.

It says the elderly and disabled could lose their independence, rural communities could be threatened and debt could also increase.

The move towards a cashless society also means there is less need for ATMs, making things even worse for those that rely on notes and coins.

Martyn James, of consumer complaints service Resolver, says: “While many of the older people I speak to like aspects of the new technology, I am hearing countless complaints about the pace of change. People are not stupid and they don not respond well when businesses try to tell them that the cashless society is what people want.

“The feeling is very much that card payments are being pushed on the masses because they are more cost-effective for the banks and it means they can cut vital services like branches."

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