Britain is facing a cash crisis, with shoppers routinely turned away when they try to pay for goods or services with notes and coins.
Money Mail has been flooded with emails and letters from readers who say they had to walk out of shops empty-handed after being told they could no longer use cash.
Some had left their bank card at home and don’t have a smartphone that stores their payment details.
Money Mail has been flooded with emails and letters from readers who say they had to walk out of shops empty-handed after being told they could no longer use cash
Others just didn’t want to use their card to make small payments for newspapers, greetings cards and confectionery.
Parents have also told of being forced to run to restaurants where their children were dining out with friends because the youngsters didn’t own a debit card.
One reader visiting her father in hospital couldn’t buy a drink because she had left her debit card at home in her rush to leave the house, but the M&S cashier refused to take cash regardless of the circumstances.
Money Mail has learnt that the City watchdog is meeting major banks, the Post Office and cash-machine providers next week to discuss ways to safeguard access to cash, such as branch-sharing among banks.
But while protecting access to cash is essential, it is also vital that urgent steps are taken to ensure people can still use it.
So, today, the Daily Mail is calling on businesses up and down the country to end discrimination against customers who prefer, or need, to use cash.
Removing cash as a payment method at such a critical time is a devastating blow for the elderly and vulnerable.
Cash use has been in decline for years, as people increasingly switch to contactless payments — where you can now spend up to £45 just by tapping your card against a reader. But the pandemic has hastened the trend because of fears that handling cash increases your risk of catching Covid-19.
Mum gatecrashes her girl’s party — to pay
Elle Strong wanted to celebrate her 14th birthday with three friends at Nando’s — but the Durham teenager had to call her mother when staff refused to take her cash.
It was the last day of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and the girls had to queue for two hours outside the chain’s Metrocentre branch in Gateshead. But when they got in, staff said they would have to use an app to order and could not pay with cash.
Elle Strong’s mother Nicola had to rush to Nando’s to pay for her daughter’s party when staff refused to take her cash
Elle’s mother Nicola, 42, had given her £70 in cash to cover the meal and none of the girls had a debit card of her own.
Fortunately, Nicola had been dining out with relatives nearby. When she arrived, an employee told her she could put her card details into a Nando’s app, which one of Elle’s friends had on her phone. But Nicola preferred to pay the £30 bill with her card at the till, which was allowed.
Nicola says: ‘I just thought, this is ridiculous.’
A Nando’s spokesman says: ‘Due to Covid-19 safety procedures, we are operating an order-at-table app which only accepts card payments. We are sorry if this causes any confusion for customers.’
Yet the Bank of England says the risk in handling a banknote ‘is no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs and credit cards’.
Even the World Health Organisation hasn’t advised against using cash. It only reminds people to wash their hands afterwards, as most of us would anyway.
Peter McNamara, chief executive of NoteMachine, which runs 11,000 cash machines, says: ‘Cash is extremely safe, as it is effectively quarantined in ATMs for long periods of time, whereas your card is used all over the place.
‘There is a study by CreditCards.com and the University of Texas showing there are more types of bacteria on credit cards than on cash and coins.
‘We need to educate businesses and urge them not to discriminate against such a large number of people.’
Experts have warned that Britain is not ready to go cashless, with eight million people — about 17 per cent of the adult population — in danger of being left behind. One adult in ten says they do not know how they would cope without cash, according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
The proportion is even higher among those who are vulnerable.
About 1.2 million people in the UK have no bank account, perhaps because they have a poor credit history or cannot provide proof of address. Others on low incomes rely on cash to budget.
It is also a lifeline for those with carers or who need help shopping and don’t want to hand over their bank details.
Despite this, many shops, cafes and restaurants have introduced a blanket ban on cash since they reopened after lockdown.
I can’t pop home to get my card!
Deborah Farr was told it was ‘strictly no cash, card only’ at Côte in Reigate
Dog groomer Deborah Farr, 48, is usually paid in cash, so rarely uses her card. But when she took daughter Izzy, 20, for lunch at Côte in Reigate, Surrey, they were told it was ‘strictly no cash, card only’.
But the pair only found out they could not pay with coins and notes when they spotted a small note on the dessert menu.
The mother-of-two had not brought a card with her and hoped a waiter would assure her she could still pay without one.
Instead, two employees insisted that she couldn’t, asking if she lived locally, as though she might be able to run home and get it.
But Deborah was a 30-minute drive away from her home in Brasted, Kent.
Eventually, the restaurant manager relented and allowed her to pay with cash — but said she wouldn’t be able to give her any change. She then had to count out the exact notes and coins for the bill, which was about £45.
Deborah, who lives with her husband Richard, 56, a tree officer, says: ‘It wasn’t a very relaxing end to our nice meal.
‘Out of principle, I feel I should be able to choose how I pay for something.’
Many people mistakenly think shops must accept cash, as it’s legal tender. But all this means is that if you tried to settle a debt in full with cash, no one could sue you for failing to repay. Shops, though, are free to insist on whatever payment form they wish.
Thorntons says it is only accepting card payments ‘to help create a safe experience for everyone’.
Prezzo has made all of its restaurants cashless ‘to keep guests and staff safe and healthy’.
Others say they prefer card payments but will accept cash if there is no other option. But you may be able to use it only at certain counters or self-service checkouts — and one Money Mail reader was told they could pay by cash only if they had the exact change.
Some retailers claim they accept cash only for individual stores and staff to then refuse it.
Money Mail reader Joy Price, 76, was told she could not use cash to buy an £8.99 book at Waterstones in Boston, Lincolnshire.
Joy, who lives with her husband Trevor, 81, says: ‘I handed over a crisp £10 I’d got out the machine just ten minutes earlier but was told they only take cards.
‘I said if this is because of germs, then how is my card, which has been in and out of my purse and other machines, any better? She said they couldn’t clean cash.’
The City watchdog is meeting major banks, the Post Office and cash-machine providers next week to discuss proposed ideas to safeguard access to cash
Yet when Money Mail reported this to Waterstones, the retailer said, ‘it is not true that our shops don’t permit the use of cash’.
And when our reporter visited the Twickenham branch in June, staff were happy to accept cash.
Another reader, Craig Haggart, a 56-year-old university lecturer, was told he couldn’t use cash because of the virus at Sainsbury’s in Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire, and Dobbies Garden Centre in Glasgow.
Again, both retailers assured this paper that, while they encourage customers to pay by card where possible, their stores accept cash.
Readers have also reported being unable to use cash in bakery Greggs, despite the chain claiming it is still accepted ‘nationwide’.
Experts say individuals may think that by refusing cash they are helping to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Are notes safe? What the experts say
‘The risk posed by handling a banknote is no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards.’
Bank of England
‘Scientific evidence suggests that the probability of transmission via banknotes is low when compared with other frequently touched objects, such as credit card terminals or PIN pads.’
The Bank for International Settlements
‘To date, there is no evidence to suggest Covid-19 has been transmitted specifically through coins or banknotes.’
World Health Organisation
‘There is no evidence that banknotes are more strongly contaminated than any other surface and the dominating opinion among medical experts is that the virus is not being transmitted by banknotes.’
The International Currency Association
But the lack of consistency has left cash shoppers feeling nervous that they could be turned away — which, in turn, could cost struggling retailers, particularly smaller stores, vital income.
One reader told Money Mail she had to abandon a £45 perfume purchase at The Bath House, in Ambleside, while she was on holiday in the Lake District, as she only had cash with her at the time. ‘Surely they can’t afford to be turning down sales,’ she says.
Martyn James, of consumer group Resolver, says: ‘Lockdown is no excuse for retailers to try to force people into a cashless society.
‘Businesses can’t afford to go rogue and introduce this sort of policy when cash poses no more risk than other payment methods. Just think how many people have touched that card terminal or touchscreen at the super- market checkout.
‘And a lack of frontline banking services, with many branches now shutting at 2pm, also won’t be helping.’
Last month, Money Mail revealed that some banks are still open for only four hours a day.
Chauffeur Leslie Jefferies says he can no longer pay in cash to park at Gatwick airport.
Leslie, 62, from Orpington, Kent, previously used a mixture of cash and cards when collecting passengers at Arrivals. But drivers at short-stay car parks can now only pay at the barrier as they leave, where just cards are accepted.
Leslie says: ‘Coins were just tipped into a drum before, so I don’t see how the virus can spread to an employee through that.’
The good news is, some retailers that banned cash payments at the start of lockdown have changed their minds and now accept it.
Ikea, for example, insisted on card payments when stores reopened in May but, since August, has been accepting cash if customers are elderly, vulnerable or have no other payment method. Its restaurants, however, are still cashless.
Pizza chain Domino’s says it is ‘carefully looking into reintroducing cash transactions’.
But experts fear some businesses may never bring back cash.
Center Parcs, for example, which is not accepting cash at any of its holiday villages, was non-committal when asked if its decision was permanent.
Cash use has been in decline for years, as people increasingly switch to contactless payments — where you can now spend up to £45 just by tapping your card against a reader
A spokesman said: ‘As with all our measures, we will review them in line with national guidance.’ The FCA has told banks to do more to ensure customers have access to cash, as they are axing branches and removing ATMs.
In March, ministers promised to protect people’s access to cash — but no further details have been announced.
Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, says: ‘The Government has committed to introducing legislation to protect access to cash, but this risks being undermined if the people who rely on it increasingly have nowhere to spend it. It must now provide businesses with clear guidance on how to handle banknotes and coins safely.’
Natalie Ceeney, chair of the Access to Cash review, says: ‘Most of the debate about access to cash has focused on getting cash. But being able to spend cash is equally important and there are growing concerns that ‘cash acceptance’ is under threat.
‘Some retailers are banning cash in response to Covid fears. Others are going cashless because it is getting harder and more expensive to bank their cash takings.
‘There are ways to take cash safely. Shops that don’t accept it are saying to the most vulnerable in society ‘you’re not welcome here’.
A HM Treasury spokesman says: ‘We recognise that cash remains extremely important to the daily lives of millions of people across the UK, which is why we are co-ordinating work across government, regulators and industry so we can protect access for everyone who needs it.’
Half of our ATMs are still closed
About half the 7,200 cash machines that closed at the beginning of lockdown are still out of action.
Many are next to others at bank branches, supermarkets or railway stations, and are closed to help with social distancing. Some are in locations that are still shut.
Others are empty because shops that used to refill the machines with cash from the till no longer accept cash, according to ATM network provider Link.
This sharp reduction has led to a spike in ‘cash deserts’, leaving many vulnerable and elderly people cut off.
John Howells, chief executive of Link, says: ‘There has been a fall in ATM usage of about 40 pc since last year.
‘However, cash is still vital for millions of people and one in three is still visiting a free cash machine every week.
‘It’s vital that we protect free cash access on every High Street.’
But experts fear many ATMs may be closed for good.
As bank branches and ATMs are axed, the City watchdog has ordered banks to do more to ensure customers still have access to cash.
Under new rules proposed by the Financial Conduct Authority, banks should give customers at least three months’ notice of any branch or cash machine closure, and explain what alternative services are available.
They also need to inform the regulator if they want to replace a free ATM with a fee-charging machine.