Shops are continuing to refuse cash payments even after lockdown restrictions have eased, new Which? research shows.
One in five people reported being unable to pay with notes and coins when trying to buy something between April and July. This was most likely to happen while shopping for groceries.
Which? is encouraging businesses to sign up to the Which? Cash Friendly pledge to ensure that customers who regularly use cash aren’t excluded by the transition to digital payments.
Shoppers unable to pay for groceries
Which? surveyed more than 3,000 people across two separate surveys, to gauge experiences of trying to pay with cash.
The first survey was conducted over the phone to include those who may be less digitally capable and potentially more dependent on cash, while the second survey was online.
In the phone survey, 18% said that they were refused at least one cash payment. Of those, 16% were then unable to pay for an item.
The online survey found that respondents were most likely to be unable to pay in cash when shopping for groceries, which accounted for 35% of incidents.
This was followed by small purchases in shops (31%) and buying refreshments such as takeaway coffees (31%).
Why protecting cash matters
Our research also found that 84% of people believe businesses should continue to accept notes and coins.
While many people can now bank digitally and use alternative payment methods, millions of people aren’t yet ready or able to do so. These include some of the most vulnerable in society.
What’s more, encouraging cash as a payment method can help to boost local economies, as those who take cash out are more likely to spend it in their local communities and on the high street.
Research from the Post Office found that 66% of people feel being able to use cash is important to the recovery of the UK retail industry after lockdowns.
Which? urges businesses to join our Cash Friendly Pledge
In May, we launched the Which? Cash Friendly pledge – a public commitment retailers can take to signal to customers that they welcome cash payments.
More than 200 businesses have signed up, including Aldi, John Lewis and LloydsPharmacy.
The Federation of Small Businesses and the Confederation of Business Industry are also supporting the pledge.
We’re welcoming sign-ups from small and independent businesses in particular, to provide reassurance to their local customers and to help sustain the recovery of high streets across the UK.
Jonathan Jaffa, who runs York Supplies in Birmingham and has signed up to the pledge, said: ‘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 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 aren’t accepting cash.
‘Customers have been keen to share their views and the importance of still being able to use cash.’
The government must act now
It’s been more than a year since Chancellor Rishi Sunak committed to protecting cash in the 2020 Budget.
In July 2021, the Treasury finally launched a consultation on how cash legislation could work, including proposals to make the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) the lead regulator for ensuring that people can continue to withdraw cash locally.
As part of the government’s proposed legislation on cash access, Which? believes the FCA 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 don’t struggle to purchase essential products and services.