Are we heading for a cashless society?

26th October 2022

You’ve seen this in the press but really, what exactly does a ‘cashless society’ mean for you?

The use of cash has been in a slow decline for years. But, has the Covid-19 pandemic now set us racing towards a society where coins and notes are no longer an acceptable form of payment?

You’ve seen this in the press but really, what exactly does a ‘cashless society’ mean for you? It is unlikely that society will ever completely do away with cold hard cash but, in an ever-more complex financial world, notes and coins are being shunned by many retailers. 

In the last few years, the use of cash as a form of payment has been steadily declining with many choosing to pay by card or on their smartphone. A survey carried out by Which* showed that in 2008 63% of all transactions were made in cash. In just 10 years that figure had dropped to an incredible 34%.

With the closure of many bank branches and the disappearance of thousands of ATM cash machines (approximately 3,303 have closed in the past five years), cash was already in decline. Has the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated this process? 

As the pandemic hit and shops began to impose new rules such as wearing a mask, following one-way systems and social distancing, some retailers were also keen to stop taking cash from their customers. With lockdown measures easing, many businesses are seeking card payment only to avoid contamination. 

Although I must add that the Bank of England and WHO has stressed that cash doesn’t pose any greater risk of carrying coronavirus than any other items.

The newspapers have reported stories of people being told they cannot make payment in cash. You may think that shops have to take your cash as it is legal tender but you’d be mistaken, shops are free to insist on whatever payment method they choose.

*One shopper who, despite health problems that required her to shield, had struggled to the supermarket only to be told by check out staff they would not take her cash, payment would be taken by card or contactless methods only. With no other means of payment with her, the lady was forced to leave again empty-handed, in tears, and take the bus back home.

It was announced in the 2021 Budget by Chancellor Rishi Sunak that the contactless payment limit will be increased from £45 to £100 in an attempt to reduce the use of cash during the pandemic and Barclaycard reported that now over 90% of face-to-face transactions were made via contactless payment. The World Health Organisation made no recommendations against using cash but notes and coins are becoming increasingly viewed with apprehension.

So, whilst a totally cashless society is probably still a few years away, now might just be the time to get on board with card and contactless payments.