Shoppers 'should always be able to choose cash or card'

Dermot Jewell of the Consumers' Association says, short of a referendum, the option to use cash should be guaranteed
Shoppers 'should always be able to choose cash or card'

'Ireland has never been a cashless society for the very good reason that cash is hugely popular,' Dermot Jewell of the Consumers' Association said. Stock picture

Consumer advocates have warned the Government to intervene to ensure that shoppers will always have the option of paying with cash, as contactless and card payments become increasingly popular.

Some Irish shops are starting to refuse cash payments, the Consumers’ Association of Ireland has warned.

The association's senior policy adviser, Dermott Jewell, said retailers should be told by the Government and regulators that they must always accept cash payments and, short of a referendum, the choice of using cash to make payments should be guaranteed for all consumers.

Mr Jewell told the Irish Examiner that some retailers, with the support of the banking industry, were using the Covid-19 pandemic to try to make cash payments unfashionable, while some were starting to ban the use of cash in favour of contactless card payments.

“Ireland has never been a cashless society for the very good reason that cash is hugely popular,” Mr Jewell said.

He said contactless payment don’t suit a lot of people, including those living off an allowance.

"Then there are the many people who are paid in cash and want to spend in cash, and there are a great number of older people who simply want to use their cash savings,” Mr Jewell said.

If this catches on, in an increased level, cash will become useless and it is an unusual form of discrimination. I know it is not intended to be that way, but it is working out that way. 

Referring to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, which this week launched an in-depth investigation into plans by AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, and KBC to develop a new payments app, Mr Jewell said the concerns of regulators were evidently heightened by the increase in card-based contactless payments.

His remarks come amid evidence of the increasing use of contactless payments since the onset of Covid. At €6.2bn in October, recently published Central Bank figures show spending at point-of-sale using credit and debit cards was up 17% in the year. ATM withdrawals at €1.1bn had also increased, but were still 30% below pre-pandemic levels of October 2019.

However, Mr Jewell said the banks were trying to compete with Revolut and others because contactless payments had been remarkably successful, “but it just does not suit everybody”.

Banks “love contactless payments” he said, but the Consumers’ Association accepted that cash, with its security costs, was expensive.

“But when all is said and done, there has not been a referendum into what consumers prefer,” Mr Jewell said.

Three of the four main banks — AIB, Bank of Ireland, and Permanent TSB — said they don’t levy fees for contactless payments. Ulster Bank said it charged 1c per transaction, including for Apple Pay and Google Pay transactions.

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