An announcement this week that the cheque will be phased out by 2018 has been greeted with alarm by many people, not least those who campaign on behalf of the elderly.
Cheques have been around for thousands of years. It’s reckoned Persian traders were using something very similar in the 3rd century BC, and the Romans in the 1st centruty BC. The first known cheque written in this country was on February 16th 1659 and was for the sum of £400 (over £40,000 in today’s money).
Despite the advent of electronic banking, chip and pin cards, etc. many of us do still write the occasional cheque, although obviously the numbers of cheques written are falling. In recent years I’ve noticed that the cheque books which my bank issues have a smaller number of cheques in them than previously, and I have to ring to request a new cheque book each time I want a replacment – whereas previously one was sent automatically. You could tell their popularity was waning.
But despite the fact that we may not, as a nation, be writing so many cheques as we used to, there are still thousands being written every day, and more importantly there are cases when only a cheque will do. How does an elderly housebound person pay a tradesman for example? Are we really expecting our elderly folk to keep wads of cash in the house? That would be a really backward move – something we’re always trying to persuade elderly people NOT to do.
And what about charities and local clubs and organisations who collect in membership fees etc. by cheque. Small organisations may not have the facilities to accept payments by card. But dealing with lots of cash would put local volunteer treasurers at risk as well – either when they have quantities of cash in the house or on their way to the bank to pay it in.
Cheques are ideal in these and other situations. It’s not surprising therefore that many people are very annoyed at the announcement that cheques are to go. Before 2018 comes, there will surely have to be new alternatives to the cheque to deal with the kind of situations I mention above. (Postal orders are all very well but you have to go to the Post Office to get one for a specific amount. You can’t just keep stacks of blank ones in the house for when you need to pay someone – as you do with a cheque book. )
To be honest, at the moment, the plan to phase out cheque books looks like something which suits the banks – rather than their hard pressed cutomers. No wonder therefore that people are angry!