August 8, 2011 2:53 pm

Future of cheques remains uncertain

Banks and building societies are being urged to take action to ensure cheques are still widely accepted, amid reports that some retailers are refusing to accept the payment method.

The call comes from Age UK, a charity which provides support and advice to 5m individuals in later life, which says it has received growing numbers of complaints from the public about retailers not accepting cheques.

This is in spite of a decision in July by the Payments Council, which sets payment strategy for the UK, that cheques would not be phased out as planned by 2018, but would continue “for as long as customers need them”.

The u-turn came after widespread complaints that cheques were to be abolished before any suitable payment alternatives had been put in place. It was argued that the decision would hit elderly individuals the hardest as cheque use is highest in older consumers than the rest of the public.

However, Age UK says confidence in cheques was seriously undermined when the cheque guarantee card was abolished in June, one month before the Payments Council reversed its decision to phase out cheques.

The guarantee card gave retailers confidence that a cheque payment would be honoured by the account holder’s bank. But since this system closed on July 30, the charity says that banks have remained silent on what they intend to do to ensure that cheques remain widely accepted.

“We need to know there are definite plans in place to restore trust in them (cheques)...otherwise, cheques will simply be allowed to wither away and their demise will be blamed on lack of demand,” says Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK.

“Cheques are too important to many older people to just fade away, particularly as the banks and building societies have not come up with an alternative payment system which is safe and accessible and allows people to maintain their financial independence.”

According to Age UK, nearly three out of four people over 65 have used a cheque in the past 12 months. That figure is 60 per cent for the rest of the public.

Last month, Consumer Focus, the watchdog, also warned that the withdrawal of the guarantee card would lead to the “unmanaged decline” of cheques.

‘The 2018 deadline may have gone but if the future of cheques is still uncertain, it is vital that the Payments Council continues to investigate alternatives that work for all consumers,” said Consumer Focus last month.

“Many retailers should now re-consider their decision to stop accepting cheques in the absence of workable alternatives for customers.”

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