Cash a lifeline for keeping track of spending for 15 million people amid cost of living crisis, Which? research reveals

Around 15 million regular cash users say it helps them to keep track of their spending, underlining its importance for those on tight budgets, as Which? calls for government legislation to protect cash access in the Queen’s Speech. 

Most household bills increased at the beginning of April, and the price of fuel and food is at its highest level for years, plunging individuals and households up and down the country into a cost of living crisis. 

In a survey, the consumer champion found that half the country (54%) regularly uses cash, mostly alongside other payment methods (like debit and credit cards). Of those who regularly use cash, half (52%) say that cash helps them keep track of their spending – equivalent to 15 million people.

However, just as cash becomes an increasingly important tool for people managing on ever-tighter budgets, communities are seeing their access to cash dwindle, with 4,685 bank branches closing since 2015, and 12,178 free-to-use ATMs vanishing since 2018. 

With less than a week to go until the Queen’s Speech, Which? is calling on the government to make good on its promise to finally legislate to protect cash for as long as it needed. 

Which?’s research found there are signs that more consumers could turn to budgeting to manage their finances and combat rising costs. 

When asked about the future, over half of the UK (58%) said they will need to start budgeting if the cost of living increases – something likely to continue for the foreseeable future. 

Results of the survey also indicate that the rising cost of living could mean more people who do not usually use cash turning to it to manage their finances. A fifth (20%) of non-regular cash users said they would start using cash if the cost of living gets worse. 

Those most likely to use cash were people in the lowest income households. Over a third (34%) of respondents whose annual income was lower than £20,000 found cash, on its own or alongside other payment methods, easiest to budget with, compared to a quarter (24%) of people earning between £40,001 and £60,000. 

Despite proposals to protect access to cash introduced by the banking industry, including shared banking hubs and enhanced Post Offices, progress towards establishing them has been slow. Which? believes proposals must be targeted and of sufficient scale to plug the gaps left by bank and ATM closures.

Current measures to protect cash are only voluntary and there is nothing preventing individual banks from withdrawing from them at any point. 

Which? believes legislation must be introduced in next week’s Queen’s Speech to protect access to cash, and last week the consumer champion wrote to the Treasury, along with a coalition of organisations, charities and MPs, urging the government to make good on its long-promised pledge to legislate. The letter stated:

‘Unless legislation is introduced urgently, the ability to access, spend and deposit cash could be permanently lost for many consumers, leaving some of society’s most disadvantaged at risk of financial exclusion with no way to pay for the goods and services they need in their daily lives.’


Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said: 

“Our research shows that cash remains vital for many on a tight budget, and many more people could well turn to it to manage their finances as the cost of living crisis continues. 

“However, the UK’s cash system has taken a battering as thousands of bank branches and ATMs have closed in recent years, leaving those who rely on cash and face-to-face banking services at risk of being cut adrift. 

“That’s why it is crucial that the government finally makes good on its promise to legislate to protect cash in next week’s Queen’s Speech.”



Notes to Editors 

  • Opinium, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 4,000 nationally representative UK adults online between 8th-12th April 2022. The fieldwork took place between the 10th and 15th March 2022. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region, social grade, tenure and work status.
  • 15 million figure calculation: 0.54 (54% of cash users) multiplied by 0.52 (52% say cash helps them keep track of their spending) multiplied by 52,890,044 (ONS data for UK adults aged 18+) equals 14,851,524 UK adults (aged 18+) 


About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.


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