The use of cash has been declining for some time and has only been accelerated by the pandemic. However, that change is not taking place equally across all parts of society; lower-income households and those that do not have or cannot use the internet are much more likely to depend on cash.

Also, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) research shows that five million adults use cash for most of their purchases, the Bank of England found that 1.2 million adults in the UK did not have bank accounts, and an analysis from Which? showed that one in six people have struggled with the shift towards cashless payment as a result of the pandemic. We by no means live in a cashless society.

Even as technology advances, there is still an important duty to maintain an easy-access and free-to-use cash network. We do not want to see people cut off from full participation in society, unable to access goods and services. We must also not force small businesses to go cashless simply because it becomes too inconvenient to work with cash.

An unmanaged drift towards a cashless society clearly risks seriously disadvantaging these people, businesses, and communities. It is vital that we find ways to manage and protect access to cash and that the Government ensures that the decline in cash use does not contribute to inequality.

I have long supported calls for the Government to bring forward legislation on this issue, and was pleased that, in the March 2020 Budget, the Government agreed to legislate. However, two years later, no such legislation has been introduced to Parliament.

The Government finally published a consultation on proposed changes to the law on access to cash on 1 July 2021. It sought views on geographic access requirements for providing access to cash withdrawals and deposits, on which firms should be required to provide access and on proposals to ensure the FCA has the appropriate power and responsibilities to hold firms to account on this issue. The consultation closed on 23 September and the Government says that it is analysing the feedback received.

I submitted a written question asking for a timeline of when this legislation will be introduced:

‘To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what the timeline is for the implementation of legislation to protect access to cash, which he announced in March 2020.’

My question has now been answered by the Economic Secretary, John Glen, who said:

‘The Government recognises that cash remains an important part of daily life for millions of people across the UK, and remains committed to legislating to protect access to cash.

‘From 1 July to 23 September last year, the Government held the Access to Cash Consultation on further proposals for new laws to make sure people only need to travel a reasonable distance to pay in or take out cash. The Government’s proposals intend to support the continued use of cash in people’s daily lives and help to enable local businesses to continue accepting cash by ensuring they can access deposit facilities.

‘The Government received responses to the consultation from a broad range of respondents, including individuals, businesses, and charities. The Government has carefully considered responses to the consultation and will set out next steps in due course.’

Unfortunately, the Minister has not provided any more information about when access to cash legislation will be introduced, simply saying that the Government will set out its next steps ‘in due course’. It is disappointing that two years after the Government first made its promise, the legislation is still at the consultation stage.

I can assure you that I will continue to follow developments in this area closely and press the Government to fulfil its commitment to enshrine access to cash in law.

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