Cashback in shops ‘not enough on its own to plug gaps in fragile cash system’

18 January 2022, 00:04

Shoppers in Canterbury, Kent
Nearly half of people are unlikely to request cashback in shops and such initiatives will not be enough on their own to plug gaps in the UK’s ‘fragile’ cash system, according to Which? (Nick Ansell/PA). Picture: PA

Which? found nearly half of people said they are unlikely to use the cashback without a purchase scheme in shops.

Nearly half of people are unlikely to request cashback at the till in shops and such initiatives will not be enough on their own to plug gaps in the UK’s “fragile” cash system, according to Which?

A survey carried out for the consumer group found that some people view taking out money in this way as inconvenient, or even a security risk.

The UK Government has said it will legislate to protect the future of cash, and various industry efforts to maintain access are gathering pace, such as being able to request cashback without making a purchase in shops.

Changes made in 2021 have allowed people to request cashback from stores without needing to make a purchase or pay a fee.

But Which? said a survey of more than 2,000 people found just one in six (16%) are aware of the cashback without purchase scheme, and among those who are aware, just under a third (31%) have used it to access cash.

Nearly half (46%) of those questioned said they are unlikely to use the service, with a quarter (25%) of these thinking it will not be convenient.

Nearly a fifth (17%) who are unlikely to use the scheme have concerns about privacy and 16% are worried about security issues.

A quarter (25%) of people who said they are unlikely to use the service said it would feel unfair to the shop or business to handle the cashback service.

Which? said it believes that cashback without purchase is a valuable tool in helping to protect access to cash, but it cannot meet everyone’s needs and should be viewed as part of a range of solutions.

The consumer group has welcomed moves by major banks to share services to help people and businesses maintain access to cash.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Schemes like cashback without purchase have a role to play to protect access to cash for those who rely on it, but they won’t be enough on their own to plug the gaps in the UK’s fragile cash system.

“Our research highlights clear limitations of these schemes, with very low awareness and uptake among consumers, and many people viewing cashback as an inconvenient and insecure way to access cash.

“It’s been almost two years since the Government promised to legislate to protect access to cash, so it must move swiftly to ensure that consumers will continue to be able to access cash for as long as it is needed.”

More than 2,000 people were surveyed across the UK in November 2021.

A spokesperson for the trade association UK Finance said: “The banking and finance industry has publicly committed to ensuring there is continued access to cash for those who need it, when they need it.

“In December, the Access to Cash Action Group (CAG), chaired by Natalie Ceeney, set out plans on how the industry will deliver on these commitments through a range of solutions, including shared bank hubs and free ATMs, alongside cashback without purchase, which was recently expanded to cover over 2,000 shops.”

Ms Ceeney said: “Cashback at the till is the latest innovation to help protect cash access and I was delighted that it was included in the Financial Services Bill last year.

“When we trialled it as part of the Community Access to Cash Pilots, we were really pleased by the outcomes and the feedback of people using it.

“Unlike cash machines, you don’t have to withdraw rounded amounts and our experience shows that many people using it live on tight budgets and, for example, may not have £10 in their account to withdraw from an ATM.

“In fact, around half of all withdrawals during the pilots were under £20.

“I recognise that some people prefer visiting cash machines or their local bank or Post Office, but in some locations, where the village shop is the centre of the community, there is trust between the shop owner and customer – that’s where cashback at the till did come into its own.

“It’s still very new and it’s beginning to roll out across the country, but I agree that long term we do require legislation from the Government to protect access to cash.”

John Howells, CEO of ATM network Link said: “While it is still early days for cash-at-the-till without purchase, and there are still the effects of Covid-19 to contend with, consumers’ usage continues to grow very strongly and last week there were almost 10,000 withdrawals (averaging £23), a week-on-week increase of 23%.

“The service is also proving very popular with small retailers who appreciate the fee that they get paid when they choose to offer the service.”

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national vice chair Martin McTague, who sits on the Access to Cash Pilots Board, said: “The incentives for small shops that offer cashback without purchase need to be sufficient to cover accompanying admin, security and insurance costs to the business owner.

“Freedom is crucial when it comes to payments. Regulators should protect the right of firms to install the mix of methods that works for them and their customers.

“With all the other pressures they face at the moment, we can’t expect small businesses to take over the vital role that banks and Post Offices play in protecting access to cash for as long as people want and need it.”

By Press Association