UK shops are “discriminating against a large section of society” by not accepting cash during the coronavirus epidemic, leaving many unable to buy groceries or medicine.
Consumer watchdog Which? has warned that the sharp shift towards digital payments in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19 is putting millions of shoppers at risk.
According to data from the Access to Cash Review, 8 million people in the UK are at risk from the rapid demise of the “fragile cash system”.
Both groups warned that by declining cash payments, retailers are putting the country’s most vulnerable shoppers at risk.
“Businesses who don’t accept cash are saying to the most vulnerable in society: ‘You’re not welcome here’”, the Access to Cash Review’s chairwoman Natalie Ceeney said.
Nearly 2500 shoppers responded to a Which? survey last month stating they had experienced problems paying in cash last month, and 43 per cent of those said they didn’t have access to another payment method.
Almost a third said they were unable to buy items or services at all, with 17 per cent stating they had problems buying medicine and 38 per cent struggling to access groceries.
Just three per cent of respondents who had payment problems were able to get what they wanted online.
Which?’s head of external affairs and campaigns Richard Piggin said: “While many of us may have noticed shops displaying signs that they now only accept digital payments, our research shows that the rapid move towards a cashless society risks excluding the most vulnerable from being able to pay for vital products and services.
“We’re alarmed at the reports of people leaving food and medicine behind because they can’t pay with cash and it underlines how important it is to have a coordinated approach to protecting the fragile cash system.”
The consumer watchdog is calling for more to be done to protect cash payments in the UK, including pushing forward government plans to enable to Financial Conduct Authority to track cash acceptance.