Sunday 23 February 2020 2:40 pm

Treasury mulls new laws to delay end of cash

The Treasury is drawing up plans to protect the availability of cash amid concerns over declining access to dispensers for older people and those from rural communities. 

Officials are understood to be in detailed discussions about how to combat the decline of cash ahead of the Budget next month, with one possible option the introduction of laws forcing some banks to provide cash services, according to the Telegraph. 

The Treasury is considering laws similar to those recently imposed in Sweden, which require all banks with a certain amount of deposits to offer cash services, the paper reported

Under the new rules, Swedish lenders who do not offer widespread access to cash across the country will face fines. 

Campaigners have urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to introduce similar legislation in Britain after a sharp decline in the number of retail bank branches and cash machines, particularly those offering free withdrawals. 

Although cash was used in just 28 per cent of transactions in the UK in 2018, the Access to Cash Review warned last week that millions of Brits risk being “left behind” by the rapid growth of digital payments. 

A year after its final report, the panel warned against Britain’s “sleepwalk[ing] into a cashless society”, and said the country’s cash infrastructure “will collapse without legislation”.

“Our concern is that we are fast going cashless but not everybody can go cashless,” said Natalie Ceeney, chair of the review. “There are lots of bits of Britain that going contactless or going digital is just not an option.”

A spokesperson for the Treasury refused to comment on the timings of any new measures.

“Technology has transformed banking for millions of people, but we know that many still rely on cash,” they said. “That’s why we’ve invested £2bn to ensure everyday banking services are available at 11,500 Post Office branches across the UK.”

“We’re also working closely with industry and regulators to ensure everyone who needs cash can access it.”

The news comes amid reports that Sunak is planning to move some Treasury officials to the north of England in a bid to reassure northern voters that the government takes their priorities seriously 

Under the plan, reported by the Sunday Times, officials from various key departments within the Treasury would be moved to a new “economic decision-making campus” in the north.