Cheques get reprieve as banks forced into U-turn

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The payments Council has been forced into a U-turn over its plans to scrap cheques by 2018. The bank-funded organisation had seemed bent on phasing out the paper-payment system but yesterday bowed to people pressure in cancelling its programme.

Richard North, the chairman of the Payments Council announced: "The cheque is staying." The news was universally welcomed. Michelle Mitchell of Age UK said she was "delighted". Gary Follis of the Nationwide said the move was "a victory for the consumer".

The death sentence for the cheque had angered many. While the number of cheques issued has dramatically declined – from 11 million a day in 1990 to just 3.5 million a day by 2009 – banks seemed to be hastening its demise as a money-saving exercise. Electronic payments are cheaper to process.

However, plenty still use cheques, as David Black, an analyst at Defaqto pointed out: "Older or housebound people, small businesses, schools, charities and clubs all still rely on cheques."

But yesterday's move may yet be just a stay of execution for cheques, especially after last month's withdrawal of the cheque guarantee card. It is estimated that by 2018 only 1.6 million will be issued a day. Further declines would put their continued existence at risk.