Around the globe, consumer associations, non-governmental organisations and charities are increasing calling on authorities to ensure access to cash for all. In September 2019, the European Consumer Association BEUC published a position paper ‘Cash versus Cashless: Consumers need a right to use cash.’ recommending EU level actions to ensure that consumers have a non-discriminatory right to access and use cash. In the US, the Consumer Choice in Payment Coalition (CCPC) is a group of businesses and consumer groups that have come together to advocate for consumer choice and for preserving the right of all consumers to use cash to pay for goods and services in the marketplace. In January, Alex Gladstein Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation made a strong case for financial privacy, stressing that the lack of options in terms of transaction methods opens the door to exploitation by authoritarian regimes and surveillance capitalism. Possibly the oldest pro-cash consumer group was established in Sweden in 2015: Kontantuproppet or Cash Uprising is chaired by the former national police Chief Björn Eriksson and gathers a network of associations, politicians, industry stakeholders and individuals. The movement advocates that a public operator should guarantee access to cash throughout the country.
Age UK, a charity dedicated to older people, has written an open letter to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to help older and vulnerable customers who are struggling to get cash as the lockdown continues, saying that “we are now approaching a critical time in the crisis… for older people.”
The letter asks the FCA to consider introducing guidance to force banks and building societies to offer further support for their older customers at this time, and to share the best practice that has emerged so far.
The Charity welcomes the speedy and innovative action that many banks have already taken to help their older customers by, for example, proactively contacting customers, establishing helplines, sending cash through the post and making it easier for people to get cash on older people’s behalf.
However, many older people rely on cash as their default way of paying for a range of essential goods and services and the Charity says this group needs more help. It warns that the measures already introduced won’t be of much use to those older people who struggle with the new processes; for example those who have a health condition that limits their ability to talk to their bank. Failure to put in place an easy method for customers to receive cash would leave some of the most vulnerable people unable to pay for essential supplies.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “Many older people are particularly reliant on cash and so ensuring that cash supplies are uninterrupted is particularly important to them as lockdown continues. Should there be any problems, contingency plans must ensure that provision is made for people with mobility issues and those living in isolated rural areas to ensure they can continue to access their cash.
“We hope all businesses can continue to look at how they can assist older people who depend on cash to go about their daily lives. The FCA can play an important role too by monitoring what they are doing, spreading best practice and introducing new guidance to ensure that vulnerable consumers receive an appropriate level of assistance if they need it.
“We welcome the actions businesses and the FCA have already taken to help customers access cash these last few weeks but more needs to be done, supported by clear direction from the FCA, so every older person is confident they can get the cash they need to pay their way.”
“Making sure that older people have the coins and banknotes they need to keep spending is surely in the best interests of businesses and the economy too, so the sooner a really comprehensive range of measures is in place to assure this the better for everyone.”