UK cash system is 'at risk of collapse'

Fifty pounds bank notes and a visa and mastercard atm cards
Cash is no longer king. (Getty Images)

The UK’s cash system will collapse without urgent legislation to protect it, according to a new study.

Panel members behind the Access to Cash Review, which published its final report a year ago, said action is needed to protect cash for as long as people need it.

They say that in the 12 months since their last review, significant issues within the country’s cash infrastructure remain.

The review was set up by ATM network provider Link to help understand how consumers use cash and how their requirements to access physical money will change over the next five to 15 years.

‘Cashless within the decade’

It previously predicted that society would be at the point of being "virtually cashless" by 2035, with fewer than one-in-10 transactions being made in cash.

But trade association UK Finance now expects the UK to hit this point within the next decade.

Panel members also pointed to figures showing that, over the past year, 13% of free-to-use UK ATMs have closed, as lower levels of cash use have made them economically unviable. About 25% of ATMs now charge people to withdraw their cash.

They also warn that the Post Office's cash access service is under serious threat.

Barclays recently reversed plans to stop customers accessing cash withdrawal services from post offices following a backlash.

Various initiatives have been set up by the industry to help maintain people's access to cash, including cashback initiatives at local shops and a "request an ATM" service.

But the panel said it believes the only way to manage the cash system is for the government to legislate and give regulators the tools that they need to protect cash access.

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Banks should be obliged to provide suitable cash access to their customers, it argued.

Payment volumes cash vs. debit cards (millions) 2007 to 2017 actuals, 2018 to 2027 forecast. Image: Access to Cash Review
Payment volumes cash vs. debit cards (millions) 2007 to 2017 actuals, 2018 to 2027 forecast. Image: Access to Cash Review

Natalie Ceeney, independent chairwoman of the Access to Cash Review said: "The UK is fast becoming a cashless society – without knowing what this really means for consumers or for the UK economy. Many people may want a completely digital future, but we need to make sure that this shift doesn't leave millions behind or put our economy at risk.

"I'm glad that our report of a year ago made the industry and regulators take the issue of cash far more seriously. We welcome the positive initiatives from the banking industry and much needed coordination from regulators.

"However, commercial pressures on all businesses mean that we cannot rely on the status quo, and we can see serious strains emerging.

"Regulators currently don't have the tools that they need to ensure that everyone who needs cash can get it. Now is the time for government to protect cash and allowing us to look ahead to how we can prepare for a digital future which includes everyone."

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A spokesman for the Treasury said: "Technology has transformed banking for millions of people, but we know that many still rely on cash.

"That's why we've invested £2bn to ensure everyday banking services are available at 11,500 Post Office branches across the UK.

"We're also working closely with industry and regulators to ensure everyone who needs cash can access it."

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