United Kingdom

Let us pay with cash! Why the purge of notes and coins must end

Money Mail is calling on shops and businesses to start taking cash again after our poll found millions have been barred from spending with coins and notes.

It is now more than two months since non-essential shops opened their doors, but since then, one in five of us has been stopped from paying with cash, according to our survey, conducted by Consumer Intelligence. 

And 84 per cent of those shoppers told researchers they had been turned down by traders that took cash before lockdown in March last year.

Cash crisis: One in five shoppers has been stopped from paying with coins and notes, according to our survey

Shops and restaurants have refused to handle cash in the pandemic over fears it could spread coronavirus.

Yet research commissioned by the Bank of England has found that the risk of catching the virus from bank notes was low.

The study found shoppers were more likely to catch the virus from the air in a store, or from touching shopping baskets, door handles or self-service checkouts.

Campaigners are now also urging shops to start accepting coins and notes again to help those who rely on cash.

Liberal Democrat MP Jamie Stone, a campaigner for cash, says: 'It is no exaggeration to say that cash is a lifeline for millions and is a vital budgeting tool.

'It is bonkers that some retailers refuse cash — by doing so, they are inviting people to reduce the security of their bank accounts for the sake of a pint of milk.'

Money Mail's fresh findings come just a week after banking trade figures show cash use fell 35 per cent last year.

The UK Finance report found the decline of cash — to just 17 per cent of all payments in 2020 — was accelerated by businesses trying to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

As a result, shoppers were encouraged to use Chip and Pin machines or make contactless payments through their phones, smartphone or even smartwatches.

The hike of the contactless limit from £30 to £45 in April last year also made these methods more popular, and one in four payments were made this way.

But while ministers plan to raise this limit to £100 this year, many are wary of 'tap-and-go' and traditional debit or credit cards.

Moreover, 15 per cent of the 1,047 respondents told Consumer Intelligence they preferred to use cash when they were shopping.

Yvonne Fovargue, Labour MP for Makerfield, says: 'The pandemic may well have forced most to rely on cards or internet transfers, but millions of people still use cash every day. It is simply wrong for shops to refuse or discourage the use of cash.'

At the height of the pandemic, shoppers were encouraged to use Chip and Pin machines or make contactless payments through their phones, smartphone or even smartwatches

Money Mail reader Linda Sheppard left a trolley full of plants at a till when she was told she could not pay with cash.

Earlier this month the retired secretary and her husband Eric drove 12 miles from their home in Piddington, near Bicester, to Yarnton Home & Garden Centre, near Kidlington, Oxfordshire.

The couple, who are both 75, spent more than an hour picking out £52 worth of bedding plants before heading to the till.

But when Linda tried to use cash, she was told she could only pay by card.

The pensioner was furious that she had not been informed of this policy when she called the garden centre the day before.

She says: 'In the end I just walked out and told them they were obviously happy to lose a sale. 

'I prefer using cash because it helps me budget and I don't want to be forced to pay by card.' Our research found that seven out of ten of those barred from paying with cash were told it was due to Covid-19.

Money Mail has been informed by major stores that they are still taking cash, but some individual store managers appear to be making their own decisions.

One reader claims she was turned away from her local Tesco Pharmacy because she could only pay with cash.

However, when Money Mail highlighted the case to Tesco, her local branch did not recall refusing any cash payments.

And a spokesman for the chain says it is 'committed to providing a wide choice of payment options' at its stores.

Nearly 200 retailers have promised to accept cash through the Which? Cash Friendly Pledge.

However, the consumer group still says new laws to protect cash access — which were first promised by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March last year — are 'urgently required'.

'These must include giving the Financial Conduct Authority responsibility for tracking cash acceptance levels in order to determine the extent of the problem and the rate at which levels are declining,' says Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?.

Shopper Richard Cross is worried about card fraud, but Boots Opticians in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, would not accept £67.50 cash for his contact lenses. 

And when Richard, 76, asked why a cashless policy was in place, he was told it was due to the virus.

The widower says: 'It's just wrong that they are using Covid as an excuse to force customers to pay with cards. It is far more likely that it is simply more convenient for Boots to not need to have cash in their tills.'

Lifeline: Campaigners are now urging shops to start accepting coins and notes again to help those who rely on cash

Around one in five told us they had not even been given a reason why they could not pay with cash. Meanwhile one in 20 was told there was no change in the till.

The poll also revealed the most common types of business to refuse cash.

More than half of those who had their coins and notes turned away visited a pub, cafe or restaurant — while around one in four had been refused by supermarkets, gift shops, convenience stores and clothes shops.

Taxi driver Kevin Kerr was told he could not pay with cash when he visited a Burger King drive-thru in Glasgow.

The father-of-one had £6 in loose change from customer tips to pay for his cheeseburger meal.

But when he was told he would have to pay with a card, he decided to buy his lunch elsewhere.

Kevin, 36, who lives in Renfrewshire, says: 'With so many people vaccinated, I just don't think it is necessary to refuse cash. I always allow my customers to pay in whatever way they like.'

Neil Taylor's hardware shop, Overt Locke in Somerton, Somerset, has stayed open during the pandemic. But Neil, 61, says he will not accept cash to protect staff.

He says: 'Around 99 per cent of my customers have been more than happy to go with a contactless payment or use the Chip and Pin machine, which we can sanitise. I do feel my decision has been validated as none of us has become infected with Covid.

'But with the numbers where they are at the moment, I don't think it would be right to take the risk and start accepting cash.'

A Boots Opticians spokesman says it was only accepting card payments to 'ensure the health and safety of customers and colleagues' but it had begun taking cash from those with no other way of paying on Monday.

A Burger King spokesman says this was also the reason the majority of its restaurants are only accepting cards, but that it was regularly reviewing this policy.

A Treasury spokesman says: 'We've already legislated to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to offer cashback without a purchase, and in May we outlined the next stage in delivering on our pledge of legislation to protect access to cash for those who need it.'

Yarnton Home & Garden Centre did not respond to requests for comment.

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