What would we do without cheques? The first one was written on 16th February 1659 and they remain a vital method of payment with well over a billion transactions last year. Yet the Payments Council, originally set up in part to 'defend' the public from the banks' desire to abolish the cheque appears instead to have caused deep confusion and concern over the future for cheques.
The Treasury Select Committee recently took evidence from the Payments Council and Andrew Tyrie, our Chairman, challenged them over their announcement that they would consider whether to abolish cheques in 2018. He described the announcement as “a colossal error of judgment” leading to many consumers believing that cheques are already on the way out. Astonishingly, the Payments Council claimed to be unaware that Barclays’ standing order mandate already states that cheques are in decline and are to be abolished.
Mark Hoban, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, has said that “there is no credible and coherent case for the abolition of cheques before an alternative is found.” We find ourselves in a ridiculous situation where the banks are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy – the fear of the demise of cheques means fewer people and businesses use them and so the decline becomes more marked.
Yet in the real world, cheques remain vital – largely used by people aged 55 and over, an estimated 4.5 million self-employed workers depend on them, as do 18 million housebound people, and 7.8 million families with school-age children. MPs are receiving regular letters and emails from constituents wanting a definitive answer on the future for cheques. One of my disabled residents pays her neighbours by cheque when they do her grocery shopping for her; the Treasurer of a local Charity sells tickets by post for various fund raising events which are paid for by cheque.
Banks say cheques are costly and would like an alternative to be found. But what are they doing about it? At the moment there are no viable alternatives and I think it's high time bankers came out with some clarity about their plans. If they genuinely intend to commit to cheques for the forseeable future then let's hear them say it publicly. At the moment the uncertainty and confusion is causing real concern.