Cheque-ing it out

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HANDS off our cheques! That’s the cry from locals as a significant change, introduced today, hammers what some consider to be another nail in the coffin of the cheque book.

From today UK banks and building societies will no longer guarantee payment where a cheque guarantee is used – as indicated by a Shakespeare’s head hologram on your card (already considered defunct by many issuers) and the number, taken off the card, and written on the back of your cheque, to ensure banks honour payment.

Fact is very few of us used the system. Some 86 per cent of us didn’t use the cheque guarantee system last year. Most pay by debit or credit card or online.

But for those still preferring to use cheques, it’s another step towards extinction of a system many valued as a key rite of passage. Along with your first wage slip, signing your first personal cheque was a sign of independence.

And the system is still used by many pensioners, although not as much as before. Such was concern, the Payments Council, the body that sets the strategy for payments in the UK, attended the recent Pensioners’ Parliament in Blackpool to allay concern.

Sandra Quinn, corporation communications director, says research shows 81 per cent of people aged 65 in the North West and over have “little or no concerns” about the closure of the cheque guarantee card scheme.

Sandra stresses: “We hope to reassure the remaining 19 per cent that, from today, all customers can still pay for goods and services by cheque and businesses can still accept them – just not guaranteed by card.”

However, the days of the cheque book are clearly numbered, with 2018 the target date for closing the central processing system for cheques.

Sandra explains: “This target date is separate from the withdrawal of the cheque guarantee functionality off of our cards. The decision on whether to go ahead with 2018 will be taken in 2016 and only if alternatives are in place and acceptable for all those who need them.

“Unless this happens, nothing will happen to cheques and, until then, people can still use their cheque books as they’ve always done.”

There’s some confusion as to how it applies to cheque payment agencies, too, often run by pawnbrokers, at a charge, where clients are paid by cheque but don’t have a bank account, or wish to use it. Several such agencies operate in Blackpool because of transience and the number of people without bank accounts.

Our own snap survey reveals mixed feelings.

At Eastpines Drive Post Office, Anchorsholme, which has an internet cafe, newsheet, and helps sponsor the summer fair on July 9, community-conscious bosses have taken pains to get the message across.

Signs list products which can no longer be paid for by cheque, including passports, meals on wheels, home care, national lottery, top ups, cashing personal cheques (unless prior arrangements have been made with banks), travel insurance, retail sales, phone cards and the like.

Sub post-master Chris Palk-Smith says: “It really doesn’t affect many. Cheques are a dying breed.”

William Walker-Cole, 71, of Anchorsholme, worries that cheques will eventually vanish.

“So much is technological today.

“I don’t like self-service tills or self-service filling stations, either. I have a debit card but don’t like reading the number out over the phone when buying something, I much prefer to pay by cheque. And I never buy online.”

Heather Morris, 66, of Bispham, agrees: “We’ve lost so much. Look where we’re stood – the HSBC Bank has closed here.

“There’s holes in the wall bank machines when we want proper people, there are more self-service tills at Sainsbury’s.

“I still use cheques to pay for house insurance, although my son shops online and could probably get a much better deal. I’m a traditionalist.”

Fellow Bispham shopper Josephine Barratt also bemoans the curbs on cheques. “I send cheques to my nephews and nieces.

“It’s safer than sending money and cheaper than buying a postal order. I’ve used them to pay for other things, with the cheque guarantee. I wish they’d leave well alone.”

Alistair Delawarr, 38, took over the long- established Traditional Butcher’s, on Red Bank Road, three years ago, but says: “We’ve been stung by a cheque bouncing so take debit and credit cards and cash.

“Most are happy with that, so long as they still get the personal touch here.

“We need to keep cheques long term as older people still use them.

“It’s a different matter in business, it costs you to send and cash them, so we pay suppliers online.”

Consumer watchdogs urge householders to guard against rogue traders, using the change to bamboozle people into paying cash, up front, rather than waiting for cheques to clear.