Why cash is a lifeline for so many consumers as banks shut - Jayne Dowle

IT’S not just the elderly struggling to come to terms with the ‘cashless society’. I’m not yet in my dotage, but as my experience on a recent half-term trip to London proves, I’m with them.

Jayne Dowle has concerns about Britain becoming a cashless society - do you?
Jayne Dowle has concerns about Britain becoming a cashless society - do you?

Especially because access to hard cash is in the news yet again. Yorkshire Bank has announced the closure of a further seven branches in our region; Bridlington, Brighouse, Pontefract, Sheffield’s Chapeltown, two branches in Leeds at Morley and Harehills, and Wombwell near me in Barnsley.

And consumer organisation, Which? has launched a new free ‘access to cash’ campaign, to persuade the Government to halt the closure of free cashpoints.

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Stop high street banks making mugs of us by halting branch closures
Communities continue to be hit by the closure of bank branches and free-to-use ATMs.

In just two years, Britain has lost more than 9,000 free ATMs and 1,200 bank branches. Even Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s own constituents in Richmond have seen a 24 per cent reduction in the number of fee-free cashpoints.

At a quarter of the machines which do remain working nationwide, people are being charged a fee to access their own money and it is probably no coincidence that many of these are in less-than-priviliged areas where the main high street banks left town years ago.

Hence the push towards contactless. UK Finance, a consumer organisation, predicts that cash will account for fewer than one in 10 payments by 2028. I accept that we can’t stop progress, but it should not come without highlighting some serious caveats.

When we give up paying in cash, we sacrifice privacy and independence. Every transaction is logged, every location notified. I don’t know about you, but this level of surveillance makes me feel more than slightly uncomfortable.

Should there be a moratorium on bank and ATM closures?

Should I be surprised, for instance, when I buy something online using my credit card ,and an advertisement pops up on my social media for a similar item a few minutes later?

Using contactless does not come without danger; fraud on contactless cards now accounts for more than half of debit and credit card crime. Criminals are pushing the £30 PIN-free limit to the max, making as many purchases as possible before the card is blocked.

I’m sure I suffer from a mild form of number dyslexia – often my mind goes completely blank when asked to recall a certain pin number at the till – so contactless payment has saved my embarrassment a number of times when shopping for anything under £30.

However, I’m not as clever as I thought I was. In London, we took a Thames Clipper riverboat trip from Greenwich to Westminster, two adults and my 14-year-old daughter. The attendant at Greenwich advised that we must purchase a paper ticket for Lizzie, £9.90. That bit was simple.

Then he said that the two adults should pay by contactless, swiping in as we boarded the boat; £7.70 each way, per person. Slightly over-excited, we got on board and rushed through the cabin to the deck to get a good view of the riverside sights.

What we didn’t realise, but later learned to our cost, was that there were announcements and posters inside reminding us to ‘swipe out’ when we disembarked at Westminster.

It wasn’t until the return journey, when we opted to sit under cover, that we learned our mistake. A friendly Thames Clipper revenue officer was doing a tickets spot check and advised us to make sure we swiped out when we got off at Greenwich. Ha. We came clean and admitted our oversight. She was sure we wouldn’t be penalised, she said. On that bit, she was wrong.

To cut a long story short, my husband was so worried about getting into trouble that he managed to swipe out twice. Over the next few days, I watched in horror as not one, not two, but three debits of £19.70 gradually appeared on our bank statements, a total of almost £60 for a simple return journey on a boat.

To be fair, a quick phone call to Transport for London’s very helpful customer services desk and a full and frank admission of tourist stupidity quickly sorted things out.

The young man who dealt with the situation cheerfully admitted “it happens all the time”. He told me he spends a good part of his working day refunding contactless overpayments.

As I put the phone down the sheer ridiculousness struck me. People earning their living by sorting out mistakes other people make because technology bit them? And we all end up powerless and out of pocket? Something’s gone wrong somewhere. I think I’ll call it a fault in the machine.