More than a third of UK consumers have been blocked from paying with notes and coins since the start of the pandemic, prompting warnings that the cash economy is on the verge of disintegration.
In a survey of 2,000 people conducted by consumer chamion Which?, 34% reported being unable to pay with cash at least once when trying to buy something since March, when coronavirus restrictions were first introduced.
Which? cites one case in which a diabetic man in urgent need of food because his blood sugar levels had dropped was refused service in two restaurants that had gone cashless because of coronavirus.
Which? is encouraging shops to continue to accept cash to ensure that people, particularly those who are vulnerable, are not left in a position where they have no other way to pay.
The consumer group is currently working with retailers to develop an initiative to protect consumers who want or need to continue shopping with cash.
Which? is also calling on the government to make the FCA responsible for tracking the number of UK businesses accepting cash and at what rate this is changing, in order to determine what action is needed and when.
Failure to do so risks undermining legislation on protecting cash access announced by the government in last year’s budget, says Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor.
“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," she says. “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.”