The UK's Treasury select committee is reopening its probe into plans to abolish cheques by 2018, claiming it has been "inundated with letters" from the public opposed to the move.
After several years of declining popularity, in December 2009 members of the Payments Council voted to set a provisional target of 2018 for the abolition of cheques, with a review scheduled for 2016.
However, the decision provoked widespread concern, with consumer groups, small businesses and charitable organisations all speaking out, prompting the Treasury Committee to launch an inquiry last February.
The Committee declared itself "unconvinced" by the Payment Council's assertion that cheques are in "terminal decline" and associated claims about the cost benefits of ditching the 350 year old payment method.
Treasury Committee Chairman, Andrew Tyrie MP, now says: "The Payments Council had seemingly forgotten about the millions of people who remain less at ease with the latest technology. Since our last inquiry we have been inundated by letters from the public telling us that they rely on cheques. Many charities, small business and vulnerable people - including pensioners - depend on cheques. Their needs must be considered."
The MPs are now calling for evidence on:
- trends over time in the use of cheques as a payment mechanism, including estimates of likely usage over the next five to ten years
- the advantages and disadvantages of abolition, including the impact on particular groups in society
- analysis of the likely costs and benefits of the abolition of cheques
- progress in the development of suitable alternative payment mechanisms
- the decision to close the Cheque Guarantee Scheme and the implications for cheque usage
In addition, the Committee is taking aim at the Payments Council itself, asking for submissions on whether the body is sufficiently accountable for the way its decisions impact on consumers, how well it is delivering on its core objectives, and how its work fits with industry efforts to reduce fraud.
Written evidence should be sent to the committee by 6 May.
Payments Council chairman Richard North responded by claiming to "welcome" the chance to update on the plans, adding: "We remain committed to being fully transparent and to keep consulting with those who still rely on cheques: and this inquiry enables us to reassure consumers and businesses that cheques will not disappear unless we deliver on our commitments to make sure that acceptable alternatives are in place and available."
The Council has been working to develop an alternative, revealing in December that it is teaming with banks to develop an alternative paper-based payment method as part of a commitment not to leave customer "high and dry".