Housing

McDonald’s axe hot drinks stickers and customers fear homeless could lose out

The McCafe Rewards loyalty scheme is moving from on-cup stickers to the fast food firm’s app this month and customers have complained they can’t pass their free hot drink on to homeless people

McDonald’s long-running hot drinks loyalty scheme is going digital in July – and customers have told The Big Issue they fear the move could affect homeless people.

The McCafe Rewards scheme allowed customers to buy a free hot drink after collecting six stickers. The promotion will be phased out from July and will move to the My McDonald’s app with virtual stickers replacing physical ones by scanning a loyalty card when purchasing a drink.

But some McDonald’s customers have criticised the move, insisting they would collect stickers to give people sleeping rough on the streets the stickers to get a hot drink or pass on their free drink.

People don’t realise but the impact of a coffee actually is massive

Fran Birch, 51, from Cricklade in Wiltshire, told The Big Issue: “My son and I have always collected them for homeless people. It feels such a shame that it is going because it is something that you can encourage anybody to do. It’s not costing anybody.

“Everyone who goes into McDonald’s and buys a hot drink is in a position to pass on that free sticker. It’s another reason for excluding them from society.”

Fran’s son Skott Kirkby told The Big Issue he collected up to 15 stickers a week while travelling around the country as a high-voltage electrician. The 30-year-old also pooled the stickers with colleagues to give out as many as 30 hot drinks to homeless people every month.

He wants McDonald’s to continue with the physical stickers.

“I think it’s ludicrous,” said Skott. “It’s going to have a knock-on effect because I know a few people who use them for the homeless and it’s going to put a stop for all of that.

“It’s not going to have a huge impact in this weather but come winter time if you give someone who is homeless five or six coffees they can go and get in their own time, it’s quite a big thing.

“I’d like to see McDonald’s continue with the stickers. I can’t see a need to do it on the app. To someone who needs a coffee on a cold day, it can be big. People don’t realise but the impact of a coffee actually is massive.”

The pair were not alone in criticising the fast food firm. Another social media user tweeted at McDonald’s: “I was disappointed to see from April you are getting rid of your physical hot drink loyalty cards and can only collect via the app. I always, like many others, give my completed cards to homeless people so they can get a hot drink but now I won’t be able to!”

Another user added: “I have no loved experience of being homeless so forgive me if I’m barking up the wrong tree here. 

“It worries me that I’m seeing McDonalds now only accepting free coffee tokens via an app and not the little stickers. I thought a lot of homeless folk and people in tough times collected the thrown away tokens to maybe get a drink in the morning or whenever. I’m concerned that as we move away from a paper-based currency how this will affect people without access to bank accounts or mobile phones.

“And now that companies are moving away from any kind of paper reward card systems its bound to have a knock-on effect and make the world even harder for people less privileged.”

McDonald’s announced plans for the change back in March. The Big Issue has approached McDonald’s for comment.

The fast food restaurant’s digital move is part of a wider move away from physical payments in society. 

The Bank of England found 23 per cent of all transactions in 2019 were paid for in cash, compared to 60 per cent a decade earlier and warned that Covid-19 had “magnified” the shift towards a cashless society.

But there have been warnings that the shift to a predominantly digital payment system cannot leave people behind. The Bank of England found 2.1 million people regularly used cash in 2019 while last week Age UK warned one in five elderly people face financial exclusion due to their reliance on notes and coins.

Article continues below

Current vacancies...

Search jobs

The Big Issue has had to adapt to an increasingly cashless society too, issuing vendors with card readers to take payments from customers in partnership with Zettle at PayPal. As of May 2021, 594 vendors take contactless payments, up from the 193 using card machines before the pandemic.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, told The Big Issue people who rely on physical payments must not be “left behind”.

“While digital payments offer convenience for many consumers, it’s vital that millions of people who rely on cash, including those who are vulnerable, homeless, managing on low incomes or without bank accounts, are not left behind by these rapid changes to the cash landscape,” said Shaw.

“Promisingly, the government has launched its consultation on cash legislation, to ensure that the millions of people who depend on cash can continue to access their money locally.

“As cash machine and bank branch numbers continue to decline sharply, this legislation cannot be introduced soon enough.”

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Over 90,000 households threatened with no-fault evictions since Tories promised to ban them
Renters angry at no-fault evictions, Renters Reform Bill delay and a lack of rent controls
RENTING

Over 90,000 households threatened with no-fault evictions since Tories promised to ban them

Starmer warned over glaring omission in Labour's six general election pledges: 'I'm disappointed'
Housing crisis

Starmer warned over glaring omission in Labour's six general election pledges: 'I'm disappointed'

Scottish government is declaring a national housing emergency – but what does it actually mean?
Scottish first minister John Swinney
Housing

Scottish government is declaring a national housing emergency – but what does it actually mean?

Home Office drops plan to arrest homeless people if they smell
Homelessness

Home Office drops plan to arrest homeless people if they smell

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know