“Sleepwalking into a cashless society” could leave millions of British shoppers without the ability to pay for everyday items, according to a new report examining cash-free retail.
A review conducted by Access To Cash, a consortium of payment experts, has warned that the UK could soon face similar problems to Sweden, where large number of shops have stopped accepting cash as a means to pay because it no longer makes economic sense.
In the UK, only 34 per cent of payments are now made in cash and debit cards overtook cash as the most popular payment method for the first time last year.
According to Access To Cash’s review, people in rural communities, elderly and disabled consumers face difficulties paying for everyday items or restaurant trips.
“Conditions such as Parkinson’s and arthritis can make it hard to use touch screens,” said Natalie Ceeney, the chair of Access To Cash and a former financial ombudsman.
“People who suffer mental health problems tell us that, at times of poor health, access to digital payments can lead them to clear their bank account within hours.
“Do we want a situation where sectors of society are unable to use certain shops or pay for council services, purely because they use cash?”
Ceeney added: “And how comfortable would we be relying totally in digital payments. What might happen if there was another major IT failure or cyber-attack?
“In Sweden, the government is considering issuing card imprinters to all retailers and has already leafleted consumers to suggest they hold cash in their homes, in case something was to go wrong.”
Access To Cash’s review has so far gathered evidence from more than 120 organisations including retail, and taking in accounts from people in Shetland, Porthmadog and Bournemouth in order to build a picture of the current needs of consumers and groups in the UK.
“If we don’t plan carefully for a world of lower cash, in other words, if we sleepwalk into a cashless society, millions of people will be left behind,” Ceeney said.
“As cash use continues to fall, we need to safeguard the use of cash for those who need it, and at the same time work hard to ensure that everyone can participate in this digital economy.”
The full report from Access To Cash will be released in the new year, with recommendations to government and regulators on policy.