Co-op launches plan to protect access to cash with free ATMs to help disadvantaged communities
The Co-op has announced a plan to protect access to cash, in a bid to help disadvantaged communities relying on notes and coins to budget during the cost of living crisis.
A new report published by the consumer co-operative titled ‘Way we pay’ reveals that cash use has fallen from 65 per cent to 28 per cent since 2016.
In many areas cash payments remain as high as 44 per cent, with counties in Northern Ireland, the Northeast, Wales and Scotland topping the list.
These areas have also been hit hard by bank closures with half of all banks closing since 2015 and the majority affected by high unemployment levels.
Despite London topping the list of locations where contactless payments are most common, some boroughs still see one in three shoppers paying by cash.
In terms of the areas least dependent on cash, English counties made up 80 per cent of the list – with 50 per cent of those in the Southeast and 25 per cent in the Southwest – where unemployment levels are low.
The only northern English county with a reduced reliance on cash is Greater Manchester.
Additional research from Which?, featured in the report, has shown that those most likely to use cash are people in the lowest income households and it suggests that a third of respondents whose annual income was lower than £20,000 found cash easiest to budget.
The data also revealed that many people who don’t regularly use notes and coins would use more cash to help manage finances as budgets are squeezed during the cost-of-living crisis.
To safeguard easy access to cash, which is under threat from high street bank closures, removal of free ATMs and the rise of cashless retailing, Co-op has launched a commitment to protect vital services.
The charter sets out to protect the use of cash in stores where customers are dependent on the payment method, to avoid disadvantaging or isolating communities by countering the growing threat of ‘cash deserts.’
It is also committed to offering cash machines which are free to use and retain free to use cash back facilities at stores without ATMs
Since 2018, the number of free-to-use ATMs has dropped by more than 12,000 – a reduction of almost a quarter.
As part of Co-op’s commitment to providing better access to cash, there are now over 2,300 free-to-use ATMs in Co-op stores across the UK alongside 230 Post Office counters.
Matt Hood, co-managing director of Co-op Food, said: “Insight and data within our latest report indicates that while contactless has become the preferred way for many to pay, cash still remains a key payment method that the public looks to for confidence and security.
“As a community-led convenience retailer it’s important to us that while we have the correct technology that offers convenience, we also have the in-store facilities that offer vital services to customers and communities that continue to use cash.
“The clear north south divide highlights the inequality issues that are still apparent in society today, despite the government’s levelling up agenda. By introducing this charter and making these commitments we can continue to protect and provide easy access to cash, particularly in those communities that rely on it most.”