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Senedd hears disabled peopled being discriminated against by businesses that refuse to accept cash

Disabled people are being discriminated against by shops and restaurants that refuse to accept cash, a Senedd committee has heard.

MSs continued taking evidence on a 2,500-name petition, which urges the Welsh Government to ensure vulnerable adults can continue to pay with cash. The petition was started by Mencap amid concerns that a move towards a cashless society discriminates against people with learning disabilities.

Darren Joyce, director of the Friendly Trust, a charity which helps people manage their money, warned that card-only rules can have a significant impact on someone’s mental well-being as well as their independence.

He urged businesses to display signs showing whether they accept cash, which would go some way towards reducing anxiety and distress. During the meeting on Monday October 23, Mr Joyce also called for support for businesses to keep a cash option as well as a radical change in the way people are taught about money.

Jack Sargeant, who chairs the petitions committee, suggested Welsh Government-funded organisations, such as museums, could be required to accept cash.

Financial abuse

In an earlier evidence session, Wayne Crocker – Mencap’s Wales director – said councils must also be challenged on cashless booking for services such as parking and leisure.

He explained that people with learning disabilities can have difficulty accessing banking if they are deemed at risk of financial abuse or as not having capacity to manage an account.

Dot Gallagher, who chairs Mencap Môn, said: “I’ve got two sons with learning disabilities. My eldest son would wrestle you to the ground if you wanted to take a £20 note off him. But he would freely give you his card and tell you his Pin because it means very little to him.”

She said her eldest banks with the Co-op, which used to have a presence in Bangor but the nearest branch is now in Chester – a round trip of more than 100 miles.

Similarly, Ben Cottam told the committee that members of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) often have to travel significant distances to deposit cash. The FSB’s head of Wales stressed the importance of educating businesses and helping them understand the problems that can be faced by some members of society.

Trudy Davies, who runs a shop in Llanidloes, added that card-only businesses negatively impact older people and those on lower incomes who find cash useful to budget. She told MSs that some customers still pay by cheque and she delivers to housebound people in outlying villages where there is no internet to take card payments.

Limited levers

In the Welsh Government’s response to the petition, Jane Hutt explained that powers over access to cash are not devolved. The social justice minister said: “Our levers are limited in this space as this is entirely a voluntary decision based on commercial considerations.”

However, Ms Hutt wrote that businesses will be encouraged to retain a cash option to ensure vulnerable people are not disadvantaged.

A new law, introduced by the UK Government, seeks to protect free access to cash withdrawals and deposits, but it does not cover acceptance of cash. Almost 40% of people still use cash to pay for something at least once a week, according to research from UK Finance.

In 2019, the Senedd’s economy committee warned that Wales was not ready to go cashless. Following its inquiry, the petitions committee will produce a report and the Welsh Government must accept or reject each of its recommendations.

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Senedd hears disabled peopled being discriminated against by businesses that refuse to accept cash

four £20 notes
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