One in five consumers blocked from paying with notes and coins since lockdown, Which? reveals

One in five consumers have been blocked from paying with cash since lockdown rules were eased, Which? research has found, sparking concern that people who rely on cash could struggle to spend it and the recovery of the high street could falter even as the country drops restrictions.

The consumer champion carried out two separate surveys to get the views of more than 3,000 people in total and gauge their experience of trying to pay with cash.

The first survey was conducted over the phone to include consumers who may be less digitally capable and therefore potentially more dependent on cash. The second survey was online.

In the phone survey of 1,000 people, one in five (18%) reported being unable to pay with cash at least once when trying to buy something from April to July, during which time coronavirus restrictions were lifted for non-essential shops.

Of those who experienced cash refusal, one in six (16%) were then unable to pay for an item.

In a separate online survey of 2,000 consumers, respondents were most likely to be unable to pay in cash when shopping for groceries, which accounted for a third (35%) of incidents.

This was followed by small purchases in shops and buying refreshments whilst out and about such as getting a takeaway coffee (both 31%).

The refusal figures come despite around eight in 10 (84%) consumers thinking businesses and shops should continue to accept cash. Because of this, Which? believes businesses should commit to accepting cash for all customers who still believe it is an important payment method for them.

The consumer champion is encouraging firms to sign up to its Cash Friendly pledge, an initiative designed to ensure that millions of consumers who use cash regularly are not excluded by the transition to digital payments.

The Federation of Small Businesses and the Confederation of Business Industry are also supporting the Which? pledge, and the consumer champion is particularly welcoming sign-ups from small and independent businesses to provide reassurance to their local customers and to sustain the recovery of high streets across the UK.

Research from the Post Office recently found that two-thirds (66%) of people feel the continued use of cash is important to the recovery of the UK retail industry after lockdowns. However, unless the government takes action to support access to cash for consumers and businesses, including deposit taking facilities, more firms will be forced to stop taking cash.

Jonathan Jaffa, who runs York Supplies in Birmingham, a business that recently signed up to Which?’s Cash Friendly pledge, said: “I signed up to the Which? pledge because I agree wholeheartedly with the aims of the campaign.

“Not everyone has the capacity to shop digitally, nor the inclination, so cash is vital to the effective functioning of a localised economy like ours. The ones with no choice but to pay with cash feel we are supporting them as a part of the local community rather than dismissing them as an unimportant fringe of society.”

Debbie, who owns another business that has signed the Cash Friendly pledge, Unique Boutique in Devon, said: “The pledge and cash campaign has been most helpful as a discussion point with customers, especially following the return to trading after the lockdowns as many other local independent businesses are not accepting cash.

“Customers have been keen to share their views, and the importance of still being able to use cash. Publicity around the initiative has helped provoke thought and interest in protecting the right to pay with cash.”

As part of the government’s proposed legislation on cash access, Which? believes the Financial Conduct Authority should be tasked with tracking levels of cash refusal to better understand the scale of the issue and, if necessary, to develop solutions so that cash dependent consumers aren’t left in a position where they cannot purchase essential products and services.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said:

“Cash is still a vital way to pay for millions of consumers, so it’s very concerning to see many people still reporting difficulties when trying to spend their notes and coins, even as the country moves out of lockdown restrictions.

“Over 200 businesses have signed up to Which?’s Cash Friendly pledge and we believe more businesses should commit to continuing to accept cash, helping customers for whom cash is a critical payment method.

“The government must press ahead with plans for legislation to protect cash and should make the FCA responsible for tracking cash acceptance levels. Encouraging cash usage also helps boost local economies since we know that those who take cash out are more likely to spend it locally.”

Notes to editors

  • Retailers can sign up to the Which? cash-friendly pledge here
  • The results come from two different surveys, conducted in parallel. One survey was conducted online, whilst the other was conducted by telephone. We conducted this separate telephone survey in order to make sure we were not excluding those with low digital capability when asking about cash refusal and cash dependence. Some questions were asked in both surveys.
  • Online survey information: Yonder, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 2,072 UK adults online between 9th – 11th July 2021. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region, social grade, tenure and work status.
  • Telephone survey information: Yonder, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 1,001 UK adults by telephone between 10th – 18th July 2021. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region, social grade, tenure and work status.

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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