UK Government outlines approach to protect future of cash

  • government sets out plans to protect the UK’s future cash system and ensure people have easy access to cash
  • proposals would see cashback offered at shops without consumers having to make a purchase
  • the Financial Conduct Authority would also be given overall responsibility for the UK’s retail cash system to protect consumers and SMEs

Under the government proposals, cashback without a purchase could be widely available from retailers of all sizes in local communities across the UK.

Although cash use is declining, with people increasingly choose cards, mobile and e-wallets to make payments, it remains crucial for groups across the UK – including the elderly and vulnerable. Many find that cash is more accessible than digital payments methods or that it helps them to budget and manage their finances.

These proposals, which also include making the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) responsible for ensuring the cash system benefits consumers and SMEs, are the latest step in the Government’s effort to support the millions of people and business who rely on cash day to day.

John Glen, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said:

We know that cash is still really important for consumers and businesses – that’s why we promised to legislate to protect access for everyone who needs it.

We want to harness the same creative thinking that has driven innovation in digital payments to maintain the UK’s cash system and make sure people can easily access cash in their local area.

To ensure no one is left behind by the transition to digital payments, the government announced at the March 2020 Budget that it would legislate to protect access to cash and ensure that the UK’s cash infrastructure is sustainable in the long-term.

Today it is seeking views on its approach to this legislation from consumer organisations, businesses, financial institutions, providers of ATM and payment services and others through a call for evidence.

One proposal under consideration is cashback without a purchase, which could help to keep cash widely available by reducing cash infrastructure costs.

When local shops accept and dispense cash, it is recycled through local communities and there is less need to transport and distribute notes and coins via cash centres, which reduces the associated costs.

Last year, consumers received £3.8 billion of cashback when paying for items at a till – making it the second most used method for withdrawing cash in the UK behind ATMs.

Current EU law makes it difficult for businesses to offer cashback when people are not paying for goods and this has been a barrier to widespread adoption. The Government is now considering scrapping these rules once the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

The government is also considering giving the FCA overall responsibility for maintaining a well-functioning retail cash system given its existing regulatory role and consumer protection objective.

At present, The Bank of England, Financial Conduct Authority, Payment Systems Regulator, and HM Treasury each have specific roles and responsibilities for oversight of the cash system. Close coordination between these authorities has been highly effective, particularly in managing risks to cash through Covid-19, but there may be significant benefits to giving a single authority overall responsibility for setting requirements to meet the cash needs of consumers and SMEs.

The call for evidence opens today (15 October 2020) and will run for six weeks. It will seek views on how to ensure industry continues to offer ways to withdraw and deposit cash, how to improve cashback, what affects cash acceptance, and where regulatory responsibility should sit.

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