THOUSANDS of supermarkets and shops around the country have committed to continue to accept cash after businesses - including some of the biggest names in retail - signed up to a new pledge.

Aldi, Asda, Co-op, John Lewis, LloydsPharmacy and Waitrose have all made the public commitment to keep accepting cash in their stores, recognising that not all customers are yet ready or able to pay digitally.

Together, the supermarkets are responsible for almost 4,500 stores in the UK, and have a combined grocery market share of more than 30 per cent.

The cash friendly pledge is an initiative championed by the consumer organisation Which? designed to ensure that millions of consumers who rely on cash are not excluded by the transition to digital payments as we ease out of Covid lockdown.

The coronavirus pandemic has piled further pressure on the UK’s cash infrastructure, which has been hit by a sharp decline in businesses accepting cash and the closure of thousands of ATMs and bank branches over the last 12 months.

A study warned of a cash network in danger of crumbling revealing that 30 per cent of Scots reported being unable to pay with cash at least once when trying to buy something since March, when coronavirus restrictions were first introduced.

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Data shows that more than one in ten of Scotland's network of cash machines have been shut down at a rate of over two a day as the number of cash withdrawals has plummeted during the pandemic.

More than 600 have been shut between November 2019 and September last year, with hundreds more believed to have been temporarily shut because they are located in premises that were closed due to Covid restrictions.

Analysis produced exclusively for the Herald by the consumer organisation Which? in October revealed that nearly half (47%) of the over 1000 bank branches which were open in Scotland five years ago will have shut by next year.

LloydsPharmacy has committed to continue to accept cash across its 1,400 UK branches, and John Lewis has agreed to do the same across its stores nationwide. The new scheme has also been backed by leading retail associations that represent tens of thousands of shops across the country.

The British Retail Consortium, Association of Convenience Stores and the British Independent Retailers Association are all encouraging their members to sign up.

The Federation of Small Businesses is also promoting the scheme to members that want to maintain access to cash for their customers.

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The Bank of England also supports the introduction of the pledge.

Its Chief Cashier Sarah John said the ability to use cash remains vitally important for many people, and by signing up “businesses are helping to ensure that everyone in the UK is able to use the form of payment that best meets their needs”.

Which? will today host a summit on the future of cash that will bring together representatives from HM Treasury, banking and payments giants and leading industry experts.

The consumer organisation said the summit will cover the challenges as well as the potential solutions to ensuring that cash can remain a viable method of payment for those who have no other option.

This will include issues such as how cash dependent consumers can access cash locally and for free in the face of sharp cuts to the UK’s ATM and bank branch network, as well as how levels of cash refusal should be monitored. It will call on the government to set out when legislation to protect access to cash will be introduced and provide greater clarity about its long term plan to ensure that the millions still reliant on cash will continue to be able to pay with cash as digital payments become increasingly dominant.

Anabel Hoult, Which chief executive said: “Our cash-friendly pledge will reassure consumers who rely on cash that they won’t be left behind as we make the transition to digital payments.

“We’re asking retailers to sign up to the pledge because the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the decline of cash usage - threatening the whole infrastructure that ensures millions of people who aren’t yet ready to make the switch to digital payments can access and spend their own money.

“The government announced it would legislate to protect access to cash more than a year ago. Now it must set out when this will be introduced and explain its long-term plan to protect cash for as long as people need it.”