Millions 'will suffer without cash' as bank notes and coins set to disappear in 15 years

Debit cards overtook cash as the most popular payment method for the first time in 2017 with cash use halving in the past 10 years and forecast to halve again in a decade’s time.

But despite the increasing use of cards and electronic payments, an independent report has found that around 8million (17 per cent) people say cash is an economic necessity.

The independent Access to Cash Review's interim report warns that if we go cashless too quickly, it could threaten the poorest people in society.

It says that using cash helps those on tight budgets to stay out of debt, while it also gives independence to those in difficult or abusive relationships as well as those who rely on cash for informal support.

The decline of cash could also see those living in rural communities suffer, while the poor end up paying more for goods and services as they can't access cheap online or direct debit deals.

Separate research by consumer group Which? found that over three-quarters of consumers in the two lowest household income groups rely on cash the most.

Natalie Ceeney, independent chair of the Access to Cash Review said: “The decline in the use of cash has been dramatic, and with rapid technology development and adoption this trend will continue.

"But for millions of people in the UK, cash is not a choice, it’s a necessity. If we don’t plan carefully for a world of lower cash, in other words, if we sleepwalk into a cashless society, millions of people will be left behind.

"As cash use continues to fall, we need to safeguard the use of cash for those who need it, and at the same time work hard to ensure that everyone can participate in this digital economy.”

The group will publish its final recommendations in the New Year.

Jenni Allen, managing director of Which? Money, added: "It is vital that everyone has the option to use cash for as long as they need to – and continuing the unplanned drift towards a cashless society is not an option if we are to protect almost half the population for whom cash is a necessity.

"The Government should urgently give a financial regulator or the Bank of England a duty to protect access to cash and examine the issues driving change in the payments sector, to ensure no-one is left behind as digital payments grow in popularity."

Figures released by cash machine operator LINK reveal a 1,300 decline in the number of free-to-use cashpoints between the end of January and the start of July – the equivalent of 250 a month.

Back in the summer it was warned that 10,000 free cash machines could "close down within weeks" over a business rates battle.

Meanwhile, one man got £1million from a dodgy cash machine and blew it all in four months on private jets, escorts and holidays.

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