How consumers in the UK use cash – a snapshot

Our Cash Services team recently undertook some research to find out how people currently use cash.

Our Watching Our Pennies report found that almost 40 per cent of people use cash to pay for something at least once a week, with 11 per cent saying that they prefer to use cash and only three per cent saying that they never used cash at all. The youngest respondents (16–24 years old) were widely expected to be non-cash users but used cash almost as regularly as the 45-54 age group. 

The most infrequent users of cash were aged between 25 and 44 or over 75. The most common reason given for using cash was as a budgeting tool, although a third of people like it as they feel it is a safer way to pay than other methods. Six per cent of people don’t trust banks and 15 per cent don’t trust technology.

When cash payments are refused

A third of people that had used cash in the last year said that they had had a cash payment refused. However, even if this figure includes outlets that specifically stated “card only”, it may indicate that work is needed to ensure that cash continues to be an acceptable method of payment for those that require it. In these cases, ten percent of people then went elsewhere to make their purchase in cash and nine percent made no purchase at all. About half of people want to continue using cash the same amount as they do at present – or even use it slightly more.

How people access cash

Most people obtain their cash from an ATM and although cash gifts are still popular, only four per cent of people are still paid their wages in cash. When being repaid by friends or family for a debt of £20, almost half of the people surveyed said that they would prefer to receive a bank transfer. Just over a quarter said they would take the money any way it came, and a further quarter would prefer to be repaid in cash.

When asked which coins they would be happy to receive in change, there was a definite preference for the higher denominations, with only seven to ten per cent of people being happy to receive 5p, 2p and 1p coins. The pound coin is the most popular change item. Two-thirds had no preference as to denomination but would just like to receive as few coins as possible in change. 

Following on from this, the fate of coins received in change also varies by value. Half of bronze coins are stashed at home and forgotten, compared to just nine per cent of £1 and £2 coins.  More women than men carry their change around with them to spend later, but this could simply be due to the increased likelihood of having a purse or bag to carry coins in. 

Changes in coin use

Interestingly, although the youngest age group tend to be regular cash users, they are also the least likely to carry coins. Four per cent of people, mainly under the age of 34, simply throw their 1ps and 2ps away (this compares with one per cent who admitted to doing this in the last survey carried out in 2021).  About one per cent of people (both men and women, but mostly in the Midlands) actively collect coins. The good news for charities is around half of people have thrown coins into a collection bucket in the last six months.

Ninety percent of people have some cash at home, although most have less than £50.  When asked about the current rising cost of living, almost ninety per cent of people said they had started to buy fewer non-essential items and half had cut down on essentials. Using cash to budget has increased, particularly amongst younger people and it seems likely that this trend will continue as prices rise.

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