Contactless payment limit increased to cut cash use

Woman practising social distancing

The contactless payment limit for in-store purchases is set to increase from £30 to £45 in an attempt to cut down on physical contact due to the coronavirus epidemic.

COVID-19 informationFor accurate and up-to-date information of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, please consult official sources such as the UK government and the World Health Organisation as the situation develops.

Contactless payment eliminates the need to handle cash or touch card terminals to enter a PIN code, reducing the risk of contamination through contact. The change also aims to help cut checkout queues and crowded shops by reducing the time it takes to make payments.

Although the last contactless limit increase, from £20 to £30 took two years to implement, the new cap will be fast-tracked and available as soon as next week, where possible.

Barclaycard, which handles around a third of all UK credit and debit card payments has announced it will give priority to key sectors including supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations as the increase is rolled out.

Brits who use their smartphones to make contactless payments are already able to spend over £30, with no official limit, though some retailers set their own rules on the maximum that can be paid.

The number of contactless transactions has grown substantially in the last few years and UK cash usage has halved since the government took drastic measures in instructing the population to stay at home, according to Link, the UK’s largest ATM operator.

Some shops have become card only since the coronavirus outbreak and consumers have turned away from cash and ATMs as a hygiene precaution.

Although it is not yet known just how long the coronavirus can survive on paper money and coins, it has the ability to last several hours on some surfaces. China has even started deep cleaning potentially infected cash using ultraviolet light and high temperatures and even destroying it in some cases, while South Korea’s central bank has taken to quarantining money that arrives from local banks.

This further move towards the UK becoming a cashless society is not positive news for everybody, however. An estimated two million Brits do not have a bank account and rely entirely on cash, among them some of the most vulnerable in society.

Contactless payment

While understanding of the difficult situation retailers face in keeping their own staff and customers at bay from the virus, Gareth Shaw, head of money at consumer organisation Which?, expressed concern for those who were unable to make contactless payments, saying, “We are concerned this will leave many vulnerable people unable to pay for the basics they need.

“Both the government and retailers need to find a way to ensure that the millions of people who rely on cash, and may not have a bank card, can still pay for essentials during this difficult time.”

Others also expressed concern that shops refusing to handle cash may negatively affect those making shopping trips on behalf of their isolated neighbours. Peter McNamara, chief executive of leading independent European ATM operator NoteMachine, commented, “People are shopping for elderly and vulnerable neighbours, friends and families, and a lot of these shopping trips will need to be made with cash. Removing this payment method at such a critical time would be a devastating blow to many people.”

How do I set up contactless payment?

Most modern debit and credit and debit cards issued by UK banks are automatically set up for contactless payments, eliminating the need to enter PIN codes or sign for payments under £45. The contactless payment symbol is similar to the wifi logo, though turned on its side. If this symbol is printed on your card, you can pay anywhere that accepts contactless by holding your card over the payment terminal.

Mobile contactless payments

Newer iPhone and Android smartphone models now include the ability to pay for items using near field communication (NFC) technology through your Apple Pay or Google Pay account.

To set up your phone to accept contactless payments, you’ll firstly need to open your mobile ‘wallet’ app. From here tap ‘add card’ and enter your credit or debit card details when prompted. Once this is done, you’re all set to make contactless payments with your smartphone.

To make a payment, just follow these steps

  1. When using your mobile to make payments, you may need to unlock your phone to open the wallet app and hold your device over the contactless payment reader.
  2. You’ll then be prompted to either use touch ID or facial recognition to complete the payment.
  3. Once this has successfully gone through, you will see a blue checkmark and a notification with the transaction details, including the vendor and amount spent.

Is there a minimum card spent using contactless?

Although there is no legally set minimum, many smaller shops, bars and cafes may have their own self-imposed minimum card spend of £5, which helps to cover the cost of the service.

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