The future of access to cash

Access to cash is important for vulnerable consumers and vital for communities and financial inclusion.

Update: 26 November 2020

University of Bristol researchers, supported by the FCA and the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), have published a report on geographical access to cash in the UK. This report uses data voluntarily provided by industry to provide a comprehensive map of cash access points across the UK for the first time.
Find out more about the report further down this page.

Why are we looking at access to cash?

The ability to pay for things is essential to our lives. While technological progress has brought consumers and businesses new ways to pay and be paid, many people still rely on cash to make everyday payments.

While its use is declining, cash remains an important payment method for many, including vulnerable consumers and small businesses. It is part of the FCA’s Business Payments priority to make sure consumers can access the cash they need. And in March 2020, the Government announced an intention to legislate to protect access to cash for those who need it. We’ve also published a joint statement with the PSR on our approach to access to cash to understand issues as legislation is developed. 

The story so far

In March 2019, the Access to Cash Review published its final report (PDF). It explored how consumers’ need for cash can continue to be met at a time when technology is advancing and more people are using alternatives such as contactless payments and debit cards. 

We’re part of the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy (JACS) Group, alongside the Bank of England and PSR, and chaired by the Treasury. The JACS Group is working to safeguard access to cash for those who need it, while supporting digital payments. It has published an update on work so far which also sets out which regulators oversee the different parts of the cash system.

Access to cash is a shared problem between industry and regulators. We’re working closely with banks and the cash industry on a sustainable model for people and small businesses to access cash when they need it, while also ensuring they’re supported in using digital payments. 

Access to essential banking services and cash can be affected when banks and ATM providers make decisions to close branches and cash machines. In September 2020, we published guidance on how we expect firms to approach closures to make sure their customers are treated fairly.

Mapping the UK’s access to cash

University of Bristol researchers, supported by the FCA and PSR, have published a report on geographical access to cash. This report uses data voluntarily provided by industry to provide a comprehensive map of cash access points across the UK for the first time. This includes bank and building society branches, free-to-use and pay-to-use ATMs, and locations where cashback has been accessed at least once in the last year – in total, over 110,000 sites. The research was funded by Link, and was supported by FCA, PSR, UK Finance, Link and the Post Office.

The report objective was to identify current cash supply through the proximity of access points relative to areas of economic activity (retail centres, high streets, supermarkets) and neighbourhoods, and the depth of nearby alternatives. 

The findings show most of the UK has close cash access, with about 9 in 10 areas of economic activity having a free cash access point within 250m (not including cashback). For neighbourhoods, this falls to 3 in 10, although around 9 in 10 have access within 1km. The picture is not uniform across the country; rural areas, where the Post Office plays a greater role, are typically further from a free cash-access point than urban areas. The report finds that there was a 23% increase in the number of pay-to-use ATMs in the most deprived areas of the UK.

Although the report does not quantify the impact of this, we’re interested in further investigating the link between cash access and deprivation, as well as other issues raised in the report. The results from this report will inform our industry initiatives and ongoing legislative work with the Treasury.

Cash and coronavirus

During the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, we worked closely with regulators and industry to maintain access to essential banking services. We supported the coordinated action from the industry that maintained access where possible and signposting to alternative banking services where coronavirus led to closures. We published a short statement on this work in June 2020 and an Insight article in September 2020.

Our next steps

To help inform our work in this area, we’re undertaking research on those who have a greater reliance on cash, with a focus on the needs of vulnerable consumers and opportunities for innovation. We’re also exploring the cash needs businesses have, and what drives them to use cash. We intend to publish these findings early next year.

We will continue to coordinate our work and research with the Government, the PSR, and the Bank of England to ensure a holistic approach.

We’re continuing to coordinate closely with industry on their work to identify a sustainable way of providing future access to cash for consumers and businesses. We will publish the minutes of industry meetings and any other relevant material on the PSR website

We also support innovation that helps consumers and small businesses access cash and provide support to eligible innovative firms working in this area through Innovate and the regulatory sandbox

We’re updating this page as our work progresses.