JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Consumer groups must impress upon Government the importance of ensuring people can always access cash on local high street
Wednesday is the deadline for submissions to be made to the Treasury on how access to cash on our high streets can be maintained.
Yes, I know, we are all rightly distracted by other key issues of the moment – lockdown, vaccines and fretting over Christmas.
But I trust the country’s army of consumer groups does not miss this golden opportunity to impress upon the Government the importance of ensuring that people can always get access to cash on their local high street – as well as continuing to be allowed to use it as a payment option at most retailers.
Cash in hand: The pandemic has played into the hands of those who crave for a cashless society
Although the pandemic has played into the hands of those who crave for a cashless society – namely the banks and global electronic payment giants such as Visa and Mastercard – there is no doubt that most people are not yet ready (and probably never will be) to discard physical cash. Payment choice should be a given.
It’s why The Mail on Sunday launched the ‘Save Our Cash’ campaign last summer, calling for the Government to act decisively to protect cash.
Our campaign continues to demand that every town has at least one bank (standalone or shared by all the big banks); one free-to-use cash machine; a post office; and a free cashback facility offered by a retailer.
Judging by our mailbag, we’ve struck a chord with very many readers.
Following an article earlier this month on the need for the Government to introduce legislation that preserves access to cash – something Ministers have promised once they have absorbed all the ideas contained in the submissions to the Treasury – we were inundated with letters of support.
The overriding sentiment was that while cash may no longer be king, it still has a lot going for it (a line taken from retired councillor Bob Dutton – thank you) and is crucial for key sectors of our society such as the elderly who tend to be more cash dependent.
It’s backed by new research by financial consultant Enryo. Its analysis indicates that more than three quarters of consumers believe the Government should be doing more to ensure access to cash, especially in communities where banks have shut their branches – and taken out their cash machines.
Enryo’s findings also suggest growing support (37 per cent of those polled) for legislation that would require shops and businesses to allow customers to pay cash for day-to-day goods and essential services.
Since the pandemic, many retailers have turned their stores into cashless zones, some on the spurious ground that notes and coins transmit Covid19. Despite consumer opposition, it appears that shop managers are not for turning and will stay cashless once the economy returns to some form of normality. All the mood music suggests the Government will refuse to legislate to ensure payment choice, preferring to concentrate on ways of making cash more accessible – for example, by allowing people to get cashback from retailers without having to make a purchase.
A shame if that’s the case, but the important thing is the Government comes up with proposals that preserve in law everyone’s right to access and use physical cash.
Financial inclusion is the way forward, not financial exclusion.
Six hundred and 63 cheers to Nationwide for extending its pledge to keep a branch in every town and city that it currently operates in.
The extension means the country’s largest building society will not abandon any communities until the start of 2023 at the earliest. Although some of its 663 branches may shut in towns and cities where it believes it is over-branched, the pledge represents a shot in the arm for the high street. And boy, does it need one.
Nationwide has done its best to keep branches open during the pandemic, even on a Saturday. Unlike many of its rivals that are banking on a digital future, Nationwide lays great store on face-to-face customer service – and has gone out of its way to continue offering it (social distancing restrictions notwithstanding).
All it now needs to do is improve the wretched rates available on some of its savings accounts.