After 350 years, cheques to be consigned to the history books
By Becky Barrow
Last updated at 1:07 AM on 23rd November 2009
Cheques are to be abolished under controversial plans being drawn up by bankers.
They are widely expected to vote next month for the chequebook to be consigned to history.
Yesterday, the move was criticised by consumer groups, business lobbyists and charities representing the elderly.
Bounced out: The chequebook could be abolished by 2018 after the number issued every day has fallen drastically
They raised fears that vulnerable people, who have relied on their chequebook all their lives, will be left confused.
Many others simply prefer to pay by cheque, instead of by direct debit or bank transfer.
The Payments Council said its research shows the number of cheques being written every day has fallen dramatically in recent years.
At their peak in 1990, around 11million cheques were written every day. Latest figures show the number has dropped to around 3.8million.
Cheques, which were first used in Britain 350 years ago, are also an expensive form of payment for banks.
They cost around £1 each to process, which is four times as much as electronic payments.
The council's 15-strong board - made up of 11 banking representatives and four independents - will take a decision on December 16.
The most likely date for cheques to be phased out in the UK is 2018.
A growing number of stores including John Lewis and Tesco have stopped accepting cheques.
Stores claim they are the most insecure form of payment and that abolishing them cuts queues at checkouts.
But cheques are still widely used for making payments to local tradesmen and for utility bills.
Government departments, such as HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, rely on cheques to make millions of payments each year.
Andrew Harrop, head of public policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: 'Many older people use cheques and cash for all their transactions and are uncomfortable with alternative payment methods, such as credit or debit cards with PIN numbers.
'To prevent older people becoming financially excluded, any plans to end the use of cheques must ensure there are alternative ways of paying which they are happy using.'
Vera Cottrell, of the consumer lobby group Which?, said: 'There are still no cheap, safe alternatives to cheques. Until that time, cheques should not be withdrawn.'
The Federation of Small Businesses said it will 'strongly oppose' any move to get rid of cheques.
Sandra Quinn, a director of the Payments Council, said: 'We are completely aware that elderly, disabled and disadvantaged people need alternatives to be in place.
'If the decision is made [to end the cheque], there will be a long time before it comes into effect.'