Age UK emphasises need for older people to access cash in the race to a contactless society

Friday, May 15, 2020

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Age UK has written an open letter to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to ensure older and vulnerable customers can still access cash as the lockdown continues, saying that “we are now approaching a critical time in the crisis…for older people.”

It comes as businesses move towards cashless operations in a bid to help reduce the potential spread of coronavirus, leading to a deep concern that the rush to a society without physical cash will leave older people unable to pay for essentials.

Welcoming what it describes as speedy and innovative actions already taken by banks to help older customers, the charity has now asked the FCA to introduce guidance forcing banks and building societies to offer further support, as well as share best practice that has emerged so far.

Age UK says that many older people rely on cash as their default way of paying for a range of essential good and services and this group will need more help in the move to contactless forms of payments.

Additionally, the charity warns that some new measures, such as bank helplines, will be of little use to those older people who struggle with such processes; for example those who have a health condition that limits their ability to talk to their bank.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “Many older people are particularly reliant on cash and so ensuring that cash supplies are uninterrupted is particularly important to them as lockdown continues. Should there be any problems, contingency plans must ensure that provision is made for people with mobility issues and those living in isolated rural areas to ensure they can continue to access their cash.

“It’s deeply worrying that some older people are telling us that their cash supplies have run out and they are worried about how they will pay for their shopping, and are concerned their supplies of essentials will run out soon if they have no means of paying for more.”

Age UK’s call will also be an important reminder to retailers in the mobility and independent living sector to ensure a move to cashless operations does not exclude one of its key consumer demographics.

“While we welcome the initiatives that companies are undertaking, they don’t solve the problem for all older people,” continued Caroline.

“We are concerned that the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit as they will be unable to use the new services that have been established. It is crucial that every bank does everything it reasonably can to help these customers, including going beyond the new services they have already established.

“We hope all businesses can continue to look at how they can assist older people who depend on cash to go about their daily lives. The FCA can play an important role too by monitoring what they are doing, spreading best practice and introducing new guidance to ensure that vulnerable consumers receive an appropriate level of assistance if they need it.”

The letter also asks the FCA to ensure that banks do not discourage older people from contacting them when this is necessary for them.

Much of the messaging from banks, for example in national TV advertising campaigns, is encouraging customers to get in touch via their websites, creating what the charity describes as an impression for many older people that they can’t call their bank or visit a branch.

In response, Age UK has stressed the need for the FCA needs to ensure that customer-facing communications are clear that people unwilling or unable to contact their bank electronically are still welcome to do so by other means.

The latest figures show that a third (31 per cent) of the 70 plus population in England, the equivalent of 2.3 million people, live in a household without access to the internet, while 43 per cent of this cohort, the equivalent of 3.2 million people, have never used the internet at home or anywhere else.

The charity added that these individuals are highly unlikely to start using the internet now and they must not be forgotten or left behind.

“Making sure that older people have the coins and banknotes they need to keep spending is surely in the best interests of businesses and the economy too, so the sooner a really comprehensive range of measures is in place to assure this the better for everyone,” finished Caroline.

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