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UK communities prepare for cash access pilots

UK communities prepare for cash access pilots

Pop-up post offices, purchase-free in-store cash back and a financial hub inside a church are among the ideas being tested to help communities across the UK retain free access to cash.

The pilots follow the publication of the 2019 Access to Cash Review, which found that 17% of the UK population rely on cash, with vulnerable communities, including the poor and those in rural areas, at particular risk from reduced access to cash. The Covid-19 pandemic has further heightened the problem, with many high street businesses spurning cash payments in favour of contactless transactions.

Having picked eight communities to pilot a range of possible solutions in June, the Access to Cash project has now added a ninth and outlined what actions each area will test over the next few months.

Among the plans to be trialled are 'banking hubs’ in dedicated retail spaces, which combine the cash-transaction facilities of a Post Office with access to community banking services offered by high street players. In one community, a financial hub space will be set up in the local Methodist Church, with support from the major banks, debt advice, and support for financial issues.

Existing Post Office branches will be restructured and refurbished with cash services streamlined to make it easier to withdraw and deposit cash quickly and safely. Meanwhile, pop-up Post Office services will let small communities access basic banking services over a counter within an existing small shop.

There will also be a push to increase the number of businesses offering cashback, some without requiring people to make purchases.

Natalie Ceeney, chair, Community Access to Cash Pilot, says: "The rapid switch to digital is threatening the viability of today’s cash infrastructure. This can lead to consumers left without cash access or forced to leave their own village or town to get cash elsewhere, often at significant inconvenience and cost.

"In turn, local retailers lose custom, as consumers spend their case elsewhere, and then struggle to bank their cash takings without shutting up shop to drive to a bank branch some miles away, losing revenue and frustrating customers. It’s critical that we find ways to protect the viability of cash, for consumers and communities alike.

"These pilots are designed to find sustainable ways to keep cash viable locally, which, if successful, can then be rolled out more widely. The government has already committed to legislate to protect cash, and the financial services regulators are working closely with banks to identify practical next steps. Our aim is to use the pilots to critically inform this work."

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