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Happy birthday to cheques

But their days could be numbered

The cheque is 350 years old this year but its days as a payment method look numbered as consumers turn to alternatives.

The decline of the cheque has been driven by the introduction of other payment methods, such as debit cards, direct debits and standing orders to pay bills.

This trend is set to continue, particularly with advances in technology such as contactless payment cards and payments through mobile phones.

Contactless payments

Last year, the Payments Council consulted on the potential closure of the cheque clearing system, possibly by 2018, although it said the process would have to be managed and alternatives to cheques would need to be developed.

The decline in the popularity of cheques has been accelerated by retailers no longer accepting them as a payment method.

Shell petrol stations kicked off the process in 2005, when it became the first retailer to stop accepting them, and by the end of last year the vast majority of major retailers had followed suit.

In some countries such as the Netherlands, cheques are no longer used at all. By contrast, cheques still accounted for a third of non-cash payments in the United States in 2006, the latest year for which international figures are available.


The earliest cheque known to be in existence in the UK is dated February 16, 1659.

It’s made out for £400, signed by Nicholas Vanacker, made payable to a Mr Delboe and drawn on Messrs Morris and Clayton, scriveners and bankers of the City of London.

In 1717, printed cheques were introduced for the first time and by the late 19th century cheques were being widely used, as they were the only real alternative to cash.

For more advice on alternative payment methods, see our guide to prepaid cards and tips on how to shop safely online.

© Press Association 2009

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