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Budget plans to protect future of cash welcomed

By Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent

Legislation to protect cash will bring stability and resilience to the whole system, according to the UK’s main ATM network.

The Government confirmed in the Budget that legislation will be brought forward to protect access to cash for those who need it.

The rapid disappearance of many bank branches and free-to-use ATMs has fuelled concerns about people’s ability to continuing accessing coins and notes.

John Howells, chief executive of Link – the UK’s main cash machine network, said: “We are delighted to see the Government is taking action. Though the UK is moving towards a digital economy, it is vital that we protect free cash access as long as people need it.

“This support will provide stability and resilience to the cash infrastructure, allowing Link and the banks to continue supporting local communities.”

One area which will now be looked at is whether to give watchdogs new powers which ensure that banks continue to properly support their customers’ cash needs.

The Treasury also wants the banks to create a new system for moving money around the country, so cash remains accessible for those who use it every day.

International examples which the UK could take inspiration from include Sweden, which legislated to require large banks to provide their customers with facilities for withdrawing cash.

Around two million people in the UK still rely on cash for their day-to-day spending – with three in 10 payments still made using notes and coins.

In 2018, 50 million adults used cash machines, with 87% of them using one at least once a month.

Anabel Hoult, chief executive of Which?, said: “We are pleased that the Chancellor has taken decisive action today to ensure that millions of people who have been hit hard by bank branch and ATM closures will continue to have access to cash.

“We know that the cash system faces irreversible damage within the next two years, so the Government must swiftly press ahead with its plans to legislate, which must include putting a single regulator in charge of protecting cash.

“It is vital that this commitment is quickly turned into action. We look forward to working with the Government, regulators and industry to ensure that cash is protected for as long as it is needed.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said last week: “People across Britain work hard for their money, with millions relying on coins and notes to make their daily payments.”

Martin Kearsley, banking director at Post Office, said: “We are at the forefront of ensuring those living in rural and less economically developed urban areas can withdraw cash for free through our 11,500 branch network.

“Where cash is available locally, it’s spent locally and we welcome the announcement that legislation will be introduced to protect the cash network.

“Our postmasters provide a vital service in their local communities and as the biggest retail network in the UK, we will continue to be a central component of Treasury and industry proposals to protect free access to cash.”

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman Mike Cherry said: “One in four small high street businesses say cash is the most popular payment method amongst their customers.

“We’ve campaigned alongside Which? and others to protect our cash infrastructure, and it’s good to see the Chancellor taking action on this front.”

Rachel Statham, IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) Scotland senior research fellow, said: “The plans announced in the Budget to protect cash are welcome, but it’s important that the Government now invests in building bridges to digital services that work for everyone.

“That means investment in digital skills for people of all ages, improved connectivity so more people can get online, and supporting the development of more inclusive technologies.

“Access to digital financial services is already a prerequisite to full participation in our economy. We now need to see sustained attention from Government and regulators to deliver a transition to a future economy that is both more digital, and more just.”