Tesco’s cashless store ‘risks excluding unbanked customers’

A new cashless supermarket in Central London is part of a trend putting disadvantaged people at risk of financial exclusion

Last week Tesco embraced an increasingly cashless society by opening a store on High Holborn, Central London, that doesn’t accept notes or coins.

The shop has only two manned tills, swapping the rest for self-service lanes, and only accepts electronic payment.

Up to 80 per cent of payments made in the UK are made electronically. But experts are warning that the new store – Tesco’s second of its kind – makes shopping inaccessible for elderly and vulnerable customers and risks creating financial chaos for the excluded if other retailers follow suit.

Beth Thomas, head of partnerships and programmes at The Big Issue, has played a pivotal role in ensuring that vendors remain financially included by helping them to start offering contactless payments.

Reacting to the news, she said: “This isn’t something to celebrate. Shops that choose to only accept cashless are essentially choosing to exclude certain customers. Those with disabilities, elderly people, people with poor mental health and ‘unbanked’ people are all at risk of being further excluded in a cashless society.”

The Big Issue has long campaigned against financial exclusion and worked hard to make sure our vendors don’t lose out on making a living as fewer and fewer people carry cash.

In 2018 we kicked off a trial with Swedish tech firm iZettle to get card readers to those selling The Big Issue in towns and cities in Britain.

So far, as of December 2019, 133 vendors across the UK have gone contactless. The impact on sales for vendors in the trial was immediate and significant. Several reported rises, some only slightly (eight per cent) while one saw their sales skyrocket by 290 per cent.

On average, a quarter of the vendors’ overall sales were made via cash payments, with two vendors making around 80 per cent of their sales without cash.

Vendor Hugh Palmer said: “People think, ‘Ooh he’s got contactless, he must be OK.’ You fit back into society; before when it was cash only you would get days when people just didn’t buy the magazine from you.”

Last year Natalie Ceeney, independent chair of the Access to Cash Review, warned that an increasing number of moves to cashless risked millions of people for whom cash is not a choice but a necessity.

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The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.

She added: “If we don’t plan carefully for a world of lower cash, in other words, if we sleepwalk into a cashless society, millions of people will be left behind.”

The Review argued that deprived communities in particular tend to rely on using cash – while MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis said that it is “more affluent and technologically savvy” people who can afford to live cashless lives.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We’re pleased to be opening this cashless store in High Holborn to help customers checkout and pay quickly.”

“This is our second entirely cash-free store, our first opened in May 2018 at our Head Office in Welwyn Garden City. We are looking forward to hearing customer feedback.”