Who is worst hit by the decline in cash?

By Francesca Gillett & Kris Bramwell
BBC News

image copyrightGetty Images

Free-to-use cash machines are disappearing at a rapid rate, a study from Which? has found.

As it becomes increasingly harder and more expensive to withdraw money, who might be among the worst hit by the lack of cash?

More than 1.2 million Britons do not have a bank account, research has suggested. Aside from missing out on discounts for payments like bills, it means they rely on cash for their everyday life.

And Bank of England figures show that 2.2 million people are almost entirely reliant on cash. Among the biggest cash users are poorer people.

Market traders

Joe Harrison, chief executive of the NMTF which represents the market trader industry, said he believes a proportion of the 2.2 million people who only use cash would do their shopping at markets.

Having to pay to withdraw cash would have a "damaging effect" on market shoppers, he said, adding: "I don't think it's morally right they would be having to pay just to get something they don't have much of."

image copyrightGetty Images

The homeless

For homeless people, who without an address are often unable to open a bank account, cash is a lifeline.

Jon Glackin, founder of homeless charity Streets Kitchen, said a society in which cash is rarer would be "tricky" for people who are sleeping rough.

"For them [homeless people] to purchase things, they need cash," he said. "They are isolated. Often they don't have access to a banking system or access to a debit card."

But Mr Glackin said the effect of people carrying less cash may not be entirely detrimental to homeless people.

He said the number of cash donations that homeless people received did not appear to have dropped, despite the decline in cash.

As people carry less cash, it also raises the question of whether other street-based donations - such as charity donation buckets or buskers - are affected.

Several years ago, several charities tested contactless card payment charity boxes. The NSPCC found that during the trial, the average donation they received was higher than usual,

The food industry

Some food businesses, for example independent takeaways, have traditionally only accepted cash.

Fish and chip shop owner Andrew Crook, who is also president of the National Federation of Fish Friers, estimates that around 10-20% of fish and chip shops are still cash only.

His shop, in Euxton in Lancashire, started taking card payments around six years ago to gain an advantage over competitors.

"Where my shop is, there is a parade of shops," said Mr Crook, 43. "We have got a Chinese, a sandwich place. So if somebody pulls up outside and they have no cash, they will go to the other shops rather than come to me."

image copyrightNFFF
image captionMr Crook said his advice to all fish and chip shops would be to "move with the times"

And he has not looked back, saying it is "fantastic - quicker than cash if you use contactless, a lot safer and more hygienic with less banknotes. It's a positive step."

He said gradually more fish and chip shops were going electronic, adding: "I have heard of shops now taking 70% of their payments by card."

Meanwhile, in restaurants, tipping in cash has traditionally been your best chance of making sure the tip goes to the waiter or waitress - rather than the owner.

However as people carry less cash, tipping via card is more common. And tipping by card may not give the waiting staff the same benefit. When a service charge is added on to the end of a bill, there is no legal requirement for businesses to pass it on to their employees.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry representatives UKHospitality, said a decline in the use of cash should not lead to a significant reduction in tipping, since customers usually still have the facility to tip staff when they make a card payment.

But she added: "reduced cash flow is more likely to hit other hospitality businesses like rural pubs and will have an impact on things like fruit-machine play, which also has a knock-on effect for the business."

Traditional cash-based businesses

In the past, window cleaners would often wash customers' windows during the day while they were at work, and then return in the evening to collect cash payments. Now, that is changing.

Andrew Lee, who owns J A Lee window cleaners in Workington, Cumbria, said payments are gradually going electronic - but that there are still "lots of window cleaners out there who will only take cash", especially smaller companies.

Mr Lee, 55, who is chairman of the Federation of Window Cleaners, said: "Certainly my own company, we have seen a gradual move from cash over the last five years. Once upon a time we used to get a lot of cash a week, now it's less than 10%.

"Even the residential houses, we clean over 1,000 a month and less than 10% will pay in cash."

image copyrightFWC
image captionMr Lee said window cleaners use less cash "whether that's forced or voluntary, or a bit of both"

He said he knows of sole traders who now take card payments via a tap on their phone.

Meanwhile, Mr Harrison from market trader industry body NMTF, said around 40% of its members now accepted plasti - with the rest still insisting on cash.

The people who prefer cash

For some people, cash is a personal preference or part of family tradition - will the Tooth Fairy be expected to transfer children 50p by bank transfer, and what about pocket money?

In fact, children as young as four are able to learn to manage their pocket money on digital budgeting apps.

One parent, posting on Mumsnet last year, said she set up an app for her daughter to see how her pocket money could grow.

Some decide to use cash because of data issues. Retired army officer Mark Hainge, 62, from Hay-on-Wye, said: "I think people here in Hay would prefer not to give away any more data than they have to, like their shopping preferences, for example."

And for others, paying in cash is about being able to budget and feel more in control of their spending.

Microbiology lab assistant Dawn Harris said: "It's easy to lose track of what you're spending when you're using contactless. At least with cash you know what you've spent."

image copyrightDawn Harris
image captionMs Harris, 55, said ATM charges to withdraw cash is "not fair - it's your money"

She lives in a Buckinghamshire market town in the Chilterns and said she finds it increasingly hard to get hold of cash following bank closures.

"I use cash for bus fares or taxis - and even just to pay for things," she said. "My dad doesn't do things online [banking] so when he is charged it causes him hardship. He drives around looking for a free cash machine and he's on oxygen so it takes a while."

Meanwhile, Ashleigh Cooper, 60, from Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, said the lack of cash machines in her town is "becoming a real issue".

"For me it's like going back to the dark ages, it's crazy," she said.

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