Committee to reopen cheques inquiry

Banks were accused today of ignoring the needs of millions of vulnerable people by pressing ahead with plans to phase out cheques.

The Treasury Select Committee said it was reopening its inquiry into the future of cheques as a result of continuing public concern over plans to abolish them by 2018.

The UK Payments Council, which is made up of the major banks, announced in 2009 that cheques would no longer be used by October 2018, as long as viable alternatives had been developed.

But the committee, which held an inquiry into the issue last year, said it was unconvinced by the Payment Council's argument that cheques were "in terminal decline".

Committee chairman Andrew Tyrie said: "The Payments Council has seemingly forgotten about the millions of people who are less at ease with the latest technology.

"We have been inundated by letters from the public telling us that they rely on cheques. Many charities, small business and vulnerable people - including pensioners - depend on cheques.

"Their needs must be considered. They should not be forced into shredding their cheque books."

He added that he was "shocked" that the Payments Council had not conducted a rigorous cost benefit analysis of its plan and called on it to "go away and do some number crunching".

The reopened inquiry will look at trends in cheque usage over time, including projections on the number that will be written in the next five to 10 years.

It will also focus on the advantages and disadvantages of abolishing them and the impact this would have on particular groups, such as pensioners.

Other areas that will be looked into include the costs and benefits of abolishing cheques, progress on the development of alternatives and the Payment Council's decision to close the cheque guarantee scheme this summer.

The committee will also be examining the structure and performance of the Payments Council, looking at whether it is sufficiently accountable for the way its decisions impact on consumers and how well it is delivering on its core objectives.

Age UK, welcomed the committee's decision, saying it had heard from many older people who were "really worried" about the issue and did not know how they would cope without cheques.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said: "Scrapping cheques without there being a suitable replacement is not acceptable.

"If you find it difficult to leave the house, then cheques are often crucial in allowing you to pay bills securely and safely.

"Taking that option away could leave many vulnerable older people with no choice but to hand over their Pin numbers and cash cards to others, going against all the guidance given by banks."

The Payments Council said it welcomed the opportunity to update the committee on the work that needed doing before it took a final decision on abolishing cheques in 2016.

Richard North, chairman of the Payments Council, said: "We remain committed to being fully transparent and to keep consulting with those who still rely on cheques.

"This inquiry enables us to reassure consumers and businesses that cheques will not disappear unless we deliver on our commitments to make sure that acceptable alternatives are in place and available."