Hackney councillor says cash-free society will be ‘devastating’ for many residents – and urges businesses to keep the change

Cllr Joseph (left) with staff from Number One Cafe on Well Street. Photograph: courtesy Clare Joseph

Shops and businesses in Hackney are being urged to keep on ringing up cash in their tills so people without bank accounts or budgeting on lower incomes are not excluded.

Cllr Clare Joseph is spearheadeding a Cash Welcome Here campaign so people still have the option to pay with coins and notes.

She noticed it is becoming harder to find places accepting cash after the pandemic accelerated the move towards portable card machines.

The Victoria ward councillor said it is essential for many, including some refugees and homeless people who do not have bank accounts.

“A cash-free society could be devastating for them,” she said. “For those with very little, it is no exaggeration to say that cash is a lifeline.”

Her @cashwelcomehere campaign has won support from small businesses, including cafes, newsagents, chippies and toy shops on Well Street and Victoria Park Road.

Hackney Council voted to become a Cash Welcome Here borough recently after Cllr Joseph presented a motion to full council.

The move means residents will be able to pay with cash at council-run facilities including leisure centres.

It comes as the first coins bearing the image of King Charles III enter circulation and the Royal Mint unveiled designs for the first notes bearing his image, which will start appearing in tills in 2024.

Residents at Hackney Council’s own customer self-service centre still use cash – with a third of payments being made in pounds and pence.

Cllr Joseph said: “People on lower incomes often rely on cash and avoid cards as they may be waiting for pay day, trying not to bounce a direct debit or worrying about going into an overdraft.”

As overdraft interest rates have seen a hike, “cash is more easily ring-fenced”, she said.

Older people who may struggle to use cards or fear falling prey to scams may also favour cash.

Cllr Joseph found that some businesses in her ward reported that cash machines can fail, forcing them to revert to cash temporarily.

The use of cash can sometimes mean hospitality staff get better tips.

Joseph pointed out that using cash leaves no trace and is also useful for people leaving abusive partners who “often need to hide money away”, and for people to maintain privacy over their spending habits.

Children also need to learn about the value of money and pocket money helps them budget and develop numeracy skills, she said.

The other side of the coin, she explained, is that some companies feel they are saving time by not having to take cash to banks or get it collected.

Businesses reported that some would-be customers can be excluded.

“Some told me ‘We don’t like turning people away, and it’s often older people’,” said Cllr Joseph.

“Many residents raised the cash issue with me, especially during the pandemic. A lot of them were really unhappy about businesses going cash-free.”