‘Free cash system could disappear in two years unless government intervene’

Which? are pleading with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to introduce legislation to protect notes and coins at next month’s Budget

The government must step in to stop cash becoming a thing of the past, say consumer champions Which?, as they urged new Chancellor Risi Sunak to protect the vulnerable people who still rely on it.

The CEO of the UK’s largest cashpoint network Link, Josh Howells, issued a stark warning that the free cash system “infrastructure will fall apart” within two years unless the government step in.

A total of 9,500 free-to-use cash machines have disappeared from the UK’s streets in the last two years, with Link responding by launching their ‘Request an ATM’ scheme last October to allow communities to ask for funding to maintain a machine. But in the period since, Link has received just 274 requests.

This is an example of the lacklustre, reactive approach taken by the industry to identify areas where there is desperate need, insist Which?. They presented Link with 3,160 demands for a free cashpoint from across the vast majority of parliamentary constituencies collated by their own tool.

The loss of free-to-use machines and a following spike in pay-to-use machines is a familiar story across the UK. Ward End in Birmingham, for example, has lost 91 per cent of its free cash points, a reduction from 11 down to one.

Similarly, Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath East ward, also in Birmingham, has seen 19 free-to-use ATMs reduced to three, while East Ham North in London has seen its total of eight fall to two.

Royston Heath in North Hertfordshire, East Malling in Kent and Essington in Staffordshire South all lost access to a free machine, despite having populations above 5,000.

None of these locations submitted a request through Which?.

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That has triggered calls from Which? for Sunak to step up at next month’s Budget to introduce legislation that prevents the cash system from crumbling completely. They have penned a letter to the chancellor asking him to protect cash for as long as is needed.

They are also asking Brits to write to the Treasury to tell them why cash is so important either via their Team Cash Facebook group or on Twitter, where the campaign has been trending this morning.

“Despite the industry’s best efforts, these initiatives just aren’t enough to help the countless communities across the UK crying out for free access to cash,” said Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?.

“Many people have been left struggling from the double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures – and suffered at the hands of industry mismanagement that has left Britain’s cash landscape on the verge of collapse.

“This budget will decide the future of cash. The chancellor has a huge opportunity here to protect cash for the millions of people who rely on it.”

The Access to Cash Review at the end of 2018 warned that the UK was “sleepwalking into a cashless society” and that it would have a devastating impact on the eight million people who are still relying on notes and coins, many of whom are vulnerable or on low incomes.

At The Big Issue, we know the importance of ensuring our vendors are not left behind by the declining use of cash.

That is why we have been working hard to ensure Big Issue vendors have the option of going cashless, as part of our team-up with iZettle.

Offering contactless payments is a vital step to ensuring that vendors remain financially included, but cash still remains an important part of many vendors’ lives.