'Over a third' of UK consumers blocked from paying with cash during pandemic

·3-min read
UNITED KINGDOM - 2020/06/06: In this photo illustration banknotes of the pound sterling, The Bank of England £20 notes with the image of Queen Elizabeth II are seen in a woman's hand. (Photo Illustration by Karol Serewis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The research showed that people were most likely to have been refused the option of paying in cash when shopping for groceries. This accounted for more than a quarter (28%) of incidents. Photo: Karol Serewis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Some 34% of consumers in the UK have been blocked from paying for goods with cash during the coronavirus pandemic.

That is according to consumer group Which?, which surveyed more than 2,000 people across the country in November.

The research showed that people were most likely to have been refused the option of paying with cash when shopping for groceries, accounting for more than a quarter (28%) of incidents.

Leisure activities such as going to a pub or restaurant followed closely behind, with 24% of people being refused for paying with cash, and those who bought cleaning products (21%).

Which? added that a particularly concerning incident reported to the group involved a diabetic man in urgent need of food because his blood sugar levels had fallen. He was unable to be served in two restaurants that had gone cashless because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

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The man, who had stopped off at a service station after getting stuck in traffic, was eventually able to pay in cash at a KFC outlet. Which? confirmed that one of the sites involved in the incident was a Nando’s restaurant.

The consumer group contacted Nando’s and was told that it was taking payments through its app, in line with safety procedures. Nando’s said it was “sorry to hear that a customer was unable to dine with us due to only having cash.”

One in 20 people surveyed for Which? admitted to relying on cash while one in seven (13%) said they would struggle without it. Some two-fifths (40%) viewed cash as an essential backup.

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It comes as a recent study showed that 95% of banknotes are covered in harmful bacteria that can cause a variety of serious illnesses, including MRSA, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and even anthrax.

The UK pound was found to have had seven microbe colonies, with Saccharomyces cerevisiae being the most dangerous. Commonly known as baker's yeast, this microbe bacteria can cause illnesses such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections, as well as infections to the inner lining of the heart and abdomen in the immunosuppressed.

Saccharomyces can cause illness in even healthy humans too, where infection can easily result in thrush.

Cash is known to be covered in germs and bacteria that can lead to the spread of disease. The most common bacteria that were found on banknotes was Saccharomyces cerevisiae, found on 65% of the notes examined.

However, a Bank of England study showed that the risk of catching coronavirus from banknotes is low.

Which? said given the low level of risk and the significant number of people who still rely on cash, it is encouraging shops to continue to accept it as a means of payment. It is working with retailers to develop an initiative to protect consumers who want or need to continue shopping with physical money.

Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “We have repeatedly warned about the consequences that coronavirus will have on what was an already fragile cash system, but nowhere near enough action has been taken by the government or the regulator to understand the scale of this issue.

“The government, which is still yet to introduce legislation to protect cash it promised almost a year ago, must urgently make the FCA responsible for tracking cash acceptance levels. Failure to do so will see the cash network crumble and leave millions of people abandoned.”

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