Cashless society

Should guaranteed access to cash be placed on the same footing as other essential services, including water, electricity and post?

That’s the call from charity Age UK, reminding the government that 2.4 million over-65s in the UK rely on daily access to cash.

According to Age UK, a cashless society would effectively exclude this group of people if they cannot access cash in the future.

The warning comes as access to cash trials occurs across the country, including testing new banking hubs in communities without bank branches.

The existing trend for cash use declining accelerated significantly during the pandemic, with a big move towards digital payments and banking. For some people, it was their first time using digital payments or online banking channels.

However, Age UK is warning that we should not assume that everyone will manage a transition to a cashless society.

They tell the story of 72-year-old Eileen, who said to Age UK:

“People were lovely and would do some shopping for us, but I didn’t always have money in the house to pay them, and I couldn’t access money.

“The ATM in our village is nearly always empty. All these little things that we take for granted suddenly become huge problems.”

Age UK says that most older people can manage money themselves, but a widespread move to online banking and digital payments will leave many struggling to manage financial transactions. They risk social exclusion should this happen.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said:

“Older people who use cash and their local bank branch are finding it increasingly impossible to manage their money because more and more barriers are being put in their way.

“It is time for the government to recognise how important banknotes and coins are to all our lives and treat the cash system as the essential piece of infrastructure it is – just like utilities, post and broadband.”

One proposal from HM Treasury is to make cashback available in shops without a purchase first. Measures like this could help preserve access to cash in communities where bank branches and cashpoints are absent.