The number of contactless card payments has soared in the last 12 months, fuelling fears that Britain is ‘sleepwalking’ towards a cashless society.
Britons spent £223million a day on contactless cards in August – or £6.9billion during the month – an increase of almost 16 per cent compared to the year before.
In total there were 726million contactless payments in the month, a rise of 88million or almost 14 per cent, according to the latest figures from UK Finance.
Increasingly, many customers are making ‘tap-and-go’ payments for smaller transactions, such as for coffee or a sandwich, well below the £30 spending limit.
But while many appreciate the convenience, experts warn that banks are pressuring customers to switch to plastic cards and contactless technology rather than cash to cut their costs.
Some 82 per cent of credit and debit cards issued in August were contactless, according to figures by banking trade body UK Finance. In the same month last year the figure was 77 per cent.
Natalie Ceeney, chairman of the Access to Cash Revue, said: ‘My real fear is that we are sleepwalking into a future where millions get left behind.
‘If all the shops, banks and hospitals go cashless how are we going to support the vulnerable, disabled and less well-off who rely on cash? Digital payments are great, but shouldn’t come at the price of excluding the most vulnerable in society.’
Cash payments have been in steep decline.
Last year cash transactions fell 16 per cent to 10.9billion payment, making up 28 per cent of all purchases.
At the same time bank branches are closing at an alarming rate and free-to-use cash machines are also disappearing.
Recent research from campaign group Which? revealed 259 communities in the UK are living in so-called ‘cash deserts’ with no ATMs or just one in the neighbourhood.
The report also revealed that ATMs were closing at a rate of 578 a month in the first half of this year. The elderly and those living in rural areas are said to be the hardest hit.
Royal Bank of Scotland is replacing a full-service branch in Central London with a cashless one.
The bank said the branch will have a ‘digital focus’. Instead of providing counters and cash it will have iPads and a presentation space for customers to learn about topics including fraud.
Staff will be available to answer questions about online banking, accounts and mortgages. Appointments can also be made.
This cashless branch opens next Wednesday at 49 Bishopsgate, in the financial district.
Customers who require cash will have to use outside ATMs nearby or visit a NatWest 0.3 miles away or an RBS 2.4 miles away.
In another sign that Britain is heading towards being a cashless society, up to one in ten branches at major banks are refusing to handle change.
Britain’s biggest bank, Lloyds Banking Group – which includes Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland – has 55 coinless branches, around 3 per cent of its total network. HSBC has 20 coinless branches.
Almost 10 per cent of Santander’s branches are coinless with the majority of them being attached to universities.
Rachel Springall, from data firm Moneyfacts, said: ‘More and more customers appear to be pushed to turn to card payments as there is less access to cash machines than in the past and banks cull branches. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the UK becoming a more cashless society in the years to come.’
A UK Finance spokesman said: ‘The range of payment options available in the UK allows consumers to choose to pay the way that best suits them.
‘Debit and credit cards are a convenient and secure way to pay, providing additional levels of consumer protection if something goes wrong.’