Retailers refuse vulnerable shoppers who use cash

Retailers refuse vulnerable shoppers who use cash

author: Sarah Neate

By Sarah Neate

More than a third of consumers who tried to pay by cash have had their payments refused by retailers, according a new survey.


Consumer watchdog Which? found that 34% of people were unable to pay for items in cash during the first lockdown. The number was even higher when it came to essential groceries, with 28% reporting refusals to take cash, while 24% were unable to pay for food and drinks in pubs and restaurants.

This is despite the fact that many vulnerable people depend on cash for their daily outgoings and would struggle without it. More than one in 10 (13%) of the 2,000 people polled said they struggled without cash and a further 5% said they would not be able to carry out their daily activities or buy items they needed without it.

More than half (53%) of people polled said they had replaced some or all of their cash use since the first lockdown. Of these, 46% said that they were using cash less because shops had stopped accepting it.

Everyday impact on retailers’ ban on cash

Which? heard from consumers who reported being refused cash in difficult circumstances.

James Boswell, for example, who is diabetic, stopped off at a service station back in November. He needed to eat to help stabilise his blood-sugar levels after being stuck in traffic on the M25. Two restaurants refused to service him, but he was able to pay using cash eventually at KFC.

Retailers started refusing to accept cash at the start of the pandemic when there were worries about its safety from coronavirus. However, the Bank of England reported in November that ‘any risk from handling cash should be low and ‘no greater than touching any common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards.'

Jenny Ross, editor of Which? Money, tweeted: “Cash is still a vital way to pay for millions, so to see such a high proportion of people have difficulty spending it is very concerning.”

What can you do if you can’t pay by cash?

If you can’t use cash in local shops, look into:

  • opening a basic bank account, which is fee-free and allows you to receive and pay bills, but not get overdrawn. You can then apply for a debit card linked to your account
  • getting a pre-paid card, which you can load with money, so you can only spend what you have – though you will be charged for them
  • applying for a credit card – but remember you will be charged interest on what you borrow – so it is really important to pay it off in full each month
  • for more information on card payments, contact The Money Advice Service

Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.

author: Sarah Neate

By Sarah Neate

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