In Brief

UK ‘sleepwalking’ towards cashless society

Experts say millions of people face being ‘left behind’ if Britain ditches banknotes and coins

The UK is “sleepwalking” towards being a totally cashless society within the next 15 years if current trends continue, according to a new report.

Research by Access To Cash, a consortium of payment experts, suggests that around eight million people in the UK who rely on banknotes and coins to make payments will face major problems if cards and digital devices become the only widely accepted options. 

The report points to the issues being experienced in Sweden, where “large number of shops have stopped accepting cash as a means to pay because it no longer makes economic sense”.

Bank cards, biometrics and a universal app-based payment system called Swish “means most Swedes can pay for pretty much everything without ever using cash”, says The Daily Telegraph.

But as Yahoo! News reports, this system “creates huge problems for the millions of people who live in rural areas or are in a lot of debt”.

Cash is currently “an economic necessity” for around 25 million people in the UK, according to the new research. Nearly half of people surveyed said a cashless society would be problematic for them, and 14% said they wouldn’t be able to cope.

Those likely to be adversely affected by a cashless society include “the elderly, people in rural areas and poor people with limited access to formal financial services”, according to Quartz. There are also concerns about privacy, as “digital payments can be more traceable”, the news site adds.

“We haven’t taken a view in this report about the merit of a cashless society,” said Natalie Ceeney, author of the study and the UK’s former chief financial ombudsman. “We haven’t concluded that it’s impossible, or even undesirable. But our research does show that if we fail to plan and prepare for it properly, a cashless society would do significant harm to the millions of people who would be left behind.”

Despite the warnings, the decline of cash appears to be unstoppable. A report from banking and finance trade body UK Finance last year revealed that cash use had halved over the previous decade.

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