In the midst of Covid there have been many changes in lifestyle patterns and one key element of that change has been the move to use less cash.
This was understandable in terms of the concerns surrounding hand-washing as well, of course, as the many related factors of lockdown – security and supply of cash in an environment heavily promoting tapping and technology to move consumers along at a pace in 2m movements.
That pace, however, has grown to see the introduction of cashless-only transacting by an increasing number of retail businesses, restaurants, coffee and snack outlets and traders and, also, State bodies.
There is, of course, nothing to prevent any business or entity taking such a trading decision provided they inform their consumers in clear terms, through notices in advance of them making any purchase. Unfortunately, there have been, and there continues to be, instances where this has not happened, leading to acrimony and frustration.
However, what is at the heart of such an option is the impact on those who lose out under such circumstances. We do not live in a cashless society. It is not a policy envisaged for Ireland and for good reason.
It is not, for example, in the best interest of customers who rely on cash payments to pay their way. This can be in the form of an allowance from a parent, a cash payment from an employer, use of cash from savings while unemployed or working from home and reluctance to queue in banks through Covid.
It has also been a long-stated challenge to all who engage with and rely upon outdoor charitable fundraising and collection events – including the many unfortunate people who must ask for money to buy food, drink or a bed for the night.
So, it is a matter of simple fact that those needs are being purposefully ignored. In addition, it goes beyond that and to the issue of mental health and wellbeing.
Many of those with such health issues find it a real and significant challenge to cope with any type of card in public and feel more comfortable handling cash. The main problem, we are advised, being that those affected experience a loss of focus when using cards in public.
In recent days and since we first raised this matter, we have been contacted by consumers who are appreciative that this issue is finally receiving some airing, and who are seeking State intervention to put a halt to what is fast becoming a preference for traders and a source of increasing annoyance and anger for the ignored consumer.
This is a key point. There has been no form of discussion or consultation, of any kind, with the consumer – the person who pays for the goods and services upon which business and our economy rely to survive.
It should not be in the process of buying a new phone and should certainly not be when seeking to constructively engage with services of the State.
It is also worth considering the tourists, upon whom we heavily rely and who, especially those from outside of the EU, exchange their currency for euros only to find themselves sitting in a restaurant where, written on the wall in chalk is the advice that, “We Are Card Only!” The key requirement for any consumer of any service is choice.
It will be important that, wherever possible, adherence to normal ways of doing business are maintained, and cash – for those many citizens, customers and consumers – holds a prominent place in and is a large part of that norm.
- Dermott Jewell is policy and council advisor at the Consumers’ Association of Ireland