People struggling to buy groceries and medicine as shops refuse cash – Which?

People have been left unable to buy basics such as groceries and medicine as a concerning problem with cash acceptance in the UK grows, according to Which?

Shoppers have reported being told that cash is "a thing of the past" and some believe the coronavirus crisis is being used as an excuse to ditch physical money, the consumer group found.

It warned the viability of the cash system is being threatened as some shops have declined payments using banknotes and coins during the crisis.

Which? is asking businesses to show understanding and flexibility to customers who may only be able to pay in cash.

Richard Piggin, head of external affairs and campaigns at Which? said: "While many of us may have noticed shops displaying signs that they now only accept digital payments, our research shows that the rapid move towards a cashless society risks excluding the most vulnerable from being able to pay for vital products and services.

"We're alarmed at the reports of people leaving food and medicine behind because they can't pay with cash and it underlines how important it is to have a co-ordinated approach to protecting the fragile cash system."

30 PHOTOS
Pictures of the week: October 25 - 31
See Gallery
Pictures of the week: October 25 - 31
EMBARGOED TO 0001 THURSDAY OCTOBER 29 EDITORIAL USE ONLY Sculptures of �invisible women� are unveiled in London to announce the launch of Generation Menopause: The Invisibility Report, a white paper evidencing the experiences of menopausal women in the UK today.
Rain falls in the Old Market Square in Nottingham ahead of the region being moved into Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions on Thursday. The very high level of restrictions includes a ban on social mixing both indoors and in private gardens, pubs and bars closing unless they can operate as a restaurant, and residents are advised against overnight stays in other parts of the UK and they should avoid travel where possible in and out of the area, unless it is for work, education or caring responsibilities.
Celebrities in Halloween Costumes - File Photo by: zz/KGC-49/182/STAR MAX/IPx 2016 10/31/16 Lindsay Lohan (dressed as Harley Quinn) arrives at a Halloween Party in London, England, UK.
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: A passenger on the tube in central London on October 29, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has reached a âcritical stageâ in England with 96,000 new infections in a single day and infections doubling every nine days, according to the Imperial College London (ICL) on Thursday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that 16 more areas in England will move into Tier 2 restrictions, the second highest level, beginning Saturday. (Photo by Kate Green/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Actors and performers protest against coronavirus restrictions as part of a week of protests in Parliament Square in London, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. The British government is under pressure to develop a national strategy to combat the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic and “rescue Christmas’’ as scientists warn that the number of people hospitalized with the disease could almost triple by the end of next month unless something more is done now. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A man wears a face mask as he passes the London Eye in London, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. The International Monetary Fund has downgraded its growth forecasts for the British economy for this year and next, in its annual assessment published Thursday, following an acceleration in the number of coronavirus infections over the past couple of weeks.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A general view during The Cotswold Racing At tipstersempire.co.uk Mares' Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow Racecourse.
A woman and remote controlled robots view a piece of artwork by artist Philip Colbert in the Lobsteropolis exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Lobsteropolis offers audiences the chance to view artworks in situ, or digitally via robots from the comfort of their own home. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Georgia Meacham attends a private view of Sophie Tea Art: Send More Nudes' Show in London. (Photo by Brett Cove / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
EDITORIAL USE ONLY Kiera-Lorelle (left) , co-owner of organic food hall Cinnamon Leaf and Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice-President for EMEA at Facebook at the unveiling of a new shop front, created by renowned window designer Petra Storrs, as Facebook continues to support female-owned businesses across the UK, London.
Mollie (right), 7, and Emily, 9 in front of Halloween decorations on houses in Stormont, Belfast. (Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)
Rain falls in Nottingham ahead of the region being moved into Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions on Thursday. The very high level of restrictions includes a ban on social mixing both indoors and in private gardens, pubs and bars closing unless they can operate as a restaurant, and residents are advised against overnight stays in other parts of the UK and they should avoid travel where possible in and out of the area, unless it is for work, education or caring responsibilities.
Swans and geese float on the water of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens in London, England, on October 26, 2020. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Tottenham's Son Heung-min celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor stadium, Burnley, England, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Lindsey Parnaby/Pool via AP)
Young ballet dancers perform during a protest calling for more funding for the performing arts in Parliament Square, London. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
ST CYRUS, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 26: A small bird perches on some broom at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, on October 26, 2020 in St Cyrus, Scotland. (Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images)
The Hero of a Hundred Fights, c.1800-10, reworked and exhibited 1847, at a press view for the forthcoming Turner's Modern World exhibition at the Tate Britain in London which is dedicated to JMW Turner and explores what it meant to be a modern artist during his lifetime. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
TETBURY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to Westonbirt, The National Arboretum on October 26, 2020 in Tetbury, England. The Arboretum attracts over 550,000 visitors a year providing a beautiful landscape that people can visit to enjoy and learn about trees, as well as a vital resource for scientists to research more about these plants and understand how to protect them for the future. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson pulls down his face covering, worn due to COVID-19, to take a drink as he sits with hospital workers during his visit to Royal Berkshire NHS Hospital in Reading, west of London on October 26, 2020, to mark the publication of a new review into hospital food. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JEREMY SELWYN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Staff at the Kitchen cafe in Bermondsey, London, are providing free school meals for children over the half term holidays. Local councils and businesses are continuing to pledge free food for children in need during this week's half term break after the Government defeated a Labour motion to extend free school meals provision in England over the holidays. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 26: Kitchen products deemed 'non-essential' are seen covered up in a Tesco store on Western Avenue on October 26, 2020, in Cardiff, Wales. Pressure has mounted on the Welsh Government to reverse the decision to prohibit supermarkets from selling 'non-essential' items such as clothes and microwaves during the 'firebreak' lockdown period with a petition being submitted to the Senedd with over 65,000 signatures. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Lyn Friel, founder of the Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary in Antrim, holds a kitten. (Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)
7-year old Wilf Waller takes a bag of food offered by volunteers in London Fields, east London, who are providing free school meals for children over the half term holidays. Local councils and businesses are continuing to pledge free food for children in need during this week's half term break after the Government defeated a Labour motion to extend free school meals provision in England over the holidays. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Former paratrooper John Bream poses for a photograph before he attempts to set the record for highest jump without a parachute by jumping 40m from a helicopter off Hayling Island in Hampshire. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
A view of a deserted street on the first Sunday of Wales' national lockdown. (Photo by Andrew McCoy / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: The Nave Andromeda arrives to port on October 26, 2020 in Southampton, England. The 228-metre, Liberian-registered oil tanker was carrying oil from Nigeria to the port of Southampton when it was subjected to a suspect hijacking by stowaways off the coast of the Isle of Wight on the South Coast of the British Isles. The Ministry of Defence and Home Secretary authorised Armed Forces personnel to board the vessel in response to a police request and the incident was brought to a close in just nine minutes. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Wolverhampton Wanderers' Conor Coady during the English Premier League soccer match between Wolves and Newcastle United at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, England, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Nick Potts/Pool Photo via AP)
The P and O cruise ship Azura travels up Southampton Water into the port at Southampton, Hampshire. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Alex Lacazette of Arsenal before the Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Emirates Stadium on October 25, 2020 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, rear in red, scores his side's second goal passing Midtjylland's goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen during the Champions League Group D soccer match between Liverpool and FC Midtjylland at Anfield stadium, in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Nearly 2,500 people responded to the consumer group's cash acceptance tool, launched in mid-September, which asked people to report their payment problems.

Of the reports that Which? received, nearly four in 10 (38%) related to a problem when paying for food or groceries, one in seven (14%) were linked to leisure activities, such as visiting a coffee shop or restaurant, and one in 10 (11%) concerned parking.

Two-fifths (43%) who reported being unable to pay with cash said that they did not have another payment method with them.

While some people were able to go to another shop to buy what they wanted with cash instead, or had someone available to make the purchase on their behalf, nearly a third (32%) were unable to buy items or services at all.

Which? said 38% were left empty handed when they had problems paying for groceries, while the figure stood at nearly a fifth (17%) for people trying to buy medicine.

Just 3% of people who had payment problems were able to get what they wanted online instead.

Money stock
Cash machine operator LINK said the results of the research are worrying (Lynne Cameron/PA)

Which? believes its findings could indicate a much larger problem and further work is needed to understand the scale and pace of cash being refused.

The Government plans to legislate to protect cash and, as part of this, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) could be given a beefed up role in overseeing cash.

Which? said it supports the proposal regarding the FCA and wants to see the regulator track levels of cash acceptance.

During its research, Which? heard from Thomas Scobbie in Stirling, who said: "The reason I don't use a card is because I worry about the people that are able to clone cards and scam people and being on a fixed income, I simply couldn't survive if I lost any of that money."

Which? also heard from Andy Fisher in Beverley who said: "I was told by one shop assistant that cash was 'a thing of the past' when I tried to buy some stationary, which made me feel uncomfortable and patronised.

"I feel that coronavirus is being used as an excuse to get rid of cash but lots of people locally still need it, such as the elderly or vulnerable."

A mother whose adult son is on the autism spectrum also contacted Which?

She said: "For him, it's been incredibly difficult trying to adapt to the world we're currently living in and robbing him of his ability to transact and feel like a normal member of the public has caused him a great deal of stress."

John Howells, chief executive of ATM network Link, said: "Not everyone can or is ready to use digital or card payments and our own research shows that it is often the most vulnerable and deprived members of the community that rely on cash.

"Today's research from Which? is worrying because we can't afford to sleepwalk into a cashless society where people are left behind."

Natalie Ceeney, chairwoman of the Access to Cash Review, said: "I have sympathy for small businesses who are finding cash harder to bank.

"But businesses who don't accept cash are saying to the most vulnerable in society: 'You're not welcome here'.

"Right now, as so many people are going through hardship and isolation, it's critical that no one gets excluded."

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: "These new figures are nothing less than a wake-up call.

"Many older people rely on cash and it's really disappointing that even after venturing out to do their shopping, which for some feels like a significant risk at the moment, they may then be unable to buy their essential items."

Read Full Story Click here to comment

FROM OUR PARTNERS