The end of Cheques? - Treasury Contents

Written evidence submitted by Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)


  1.1  As the largest organisation of blind and partially sighted people in the UK, RNIB is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this inquiry.

  1.2  We are a membership organisation with over 10,000 members who are blind, partially sighted or the friends and family of people with sight loss. 80 per cent of our Trustees and Assembly Members are blind or partially sighted. We encourage members to be involved in our work and regularly consult with them on government policy and their ideas for change.

  1.3  As a campaigning organisation of blind and partially sighted people, we fight for the rights of people with sight loss in each of the UK's countries. Our priorities are to:

    — Stop people losing their sight unnecessarily.

    — Support independent living for blind and partially sighted people.

    — Create a society that is inclusive of blind and partially sighted people's interests and needs.

  1.4  We also provide expert knowledge to business and the public sector through consultancy on improving the accessibility of the built environment, technology, products and services.


  2.1  The proposal is for cheques to be phased out by 2018 but only if alternatives are developed. RNIB is concerned that although there are alternatives, listed below, they are not fully accessible or fully available to users. It would therefore be a very high risk strategy to start planning towards removal of cheques by 2018 without these alternatives being in place.

  2.2  Many blind and partially sighted people rely on cheques for the payment of bills and to access cash.

  2.3  In terms of trends over time, if the alternatives were available and accessible right now, then the UK Payments Council, Banks and organisations like RNIB could support people moving over to them. However, they are not available now and the timescales are unlikely to be long enough to have them in place. The continuing issues around adoption of Chip and Signature by industry, manufactures and end users is an example of how difficult it can be to move people to different payment methods.

  2.4  Whilst cheques are not totally accessible, they are something with which people are familiar, a trusted payment method, which can be completed in a person's own home. This is helpful for people who do not feel confident going out alone, and enables them to ask friends or family to post the cheque, enabling them some independent control of money. The familiarity of cheques gives those people using them the confidence to manage their own money independently.

  2.5  Phasing out cheques completely could take away this independence and would be a step backwards in terms of independent living and choice for many blind and partially sighted people. This is because the alternatives discussed below are not developed enough to replace cheques for the foreseeable future.

  2.6  In short, if cheques are to be phased out, then before this happens we need the industry and groups concerned to be fully supported by the Treasury to put alternatives in place. This is not something we believe is likely to happen fully enough by 2018. We are concerned that if cheques were phased out, we would find many more blind and partially sighted people taking a step backwards in terms of being able to control their own money.

  Detailed responses to the questions the Committee set out in its press release announcing the inquiry:


The disadvantages of abolition—the impact on blind and partially sighted people.

  3.1  Some of the reasons that blind and partially sighted people use cheques rather than other payment methods need to be reflected in alternative systems. Some of these benefits can be seen in the alternatives listed. However, other concerns about accessibility negate the benefits offered by the alternative methods.



  4.1  You may not be able to see enough to verify the cheque amount yourself, but you can ask a trusted friend, family member or colleague to do this for you. A cheque is a very portable and flexible way of doing this—you can't carry a computer screen or ATM around with you.


  4.2  You keep a record in your cheque book that is easy to access at any time. Again, these can be verified by a trusted party if necessary.

Sense of control

  4.3  Because cheques are manually processed by the bank, it is possible to cancel a cheque after the event, so it gives a sense of control over stopping a payment by visiting the bank or making a quick phone call.

Physical nature of the cheque

  4.4  The act of physically handing a cheque over to someone is a physical manifestation of handing over money. Part of this benefit is in the confidence of feeling certain about the transaction which links to feeling confident about who you are paying and how much. The other aspect to this is that by physically signing the cheque yourself you have a feeling of independence and control over signing off the transaction yourself and not relying on others.


The development of alternative payment mechanisms

  5.1  The possible alternatives outlined below have drawbacks for blind and partially sighted people. Many payment methods and systems are partly or totally inaccessible to some blind people. Any alternative that is adopted needs to be fully accessible and, as noted above, needs to provide blind and partially sighted people with the same benefits of using cheques, in terms of control, verification and security.

5.2  Chip and PIN or Chip and Signature

  5.21  Summary: This is the method where people use credit and debit cards with a choice of a PIN number or signature within a retail setting (for example, a shop or restaurant).

5.3  Benefits

  5.3.1  Widely available: There are many places where PEDs (portable pin pad device) are used as the primary method of payment, so it is widely available.

  5.3.2  Easy to change payment: Arguably, a transaction can be cancelled or amended but it's not easy to do this in practice.

5.4  Drawbacks

  5.4.1  Not fully accessible: Designs vary, but many are accessible enough to enable the person to put their own number into the PED. However, you don't get verification of what is on the screen, and the receipt is also in small print. Asking for verification of what is on the screen compromises privacy and security.

  5.4.2  Chip and signature confusion: We are still receiving feedback that people are having problems.

  5.4.3  More limited than cheques: If you want to pay a private individual, you can write them a cheque. If you want to pay using a card then you would need to use an ATM, cashback or online banking to reach the same end, adding a layer of difficulty to the process.

  5.4.4  Privacy and security: Chip and PIN users have fed back concerns about other people seeing their number. Shielding products such as ViewSafe help to protect the view of the keypad to assist with key entry. However, not being able to verify the amount on the screen still causes concern if the customer doesn't wish the amount to be read out, for example in restaurants where a Tip may be added.

5.5  ATMs (Cash Machines)

  5.5.1  Summary: There are currently 64,000 ATMs in the UK that are connected to LINK. Over 38,500 of these are free to use. Although there are design guidelines, these machines are still almost impossible for a blind person to use.

5.6  Benefits

  5.6.1  Variety of services: The ATM network is extensive and now enables people to top up mobiles, pay in money and check their balances as well as withdraw money.

  5.6.2  Available evenings and weekends: ATMs are there to be used outside of business hours.

  5.6.3  Smart cards: The use of smart cards has been outlined as a concept. In theory, using them with an ATM could enable the display to adjust to the user requirements for screen layout but this is not something that the industry is ready to adopt and is therefore not going to be a solution ahead of 2018.

  5.6.4  Extensive network: Because of the extensive network, it is likely that a cash machine will be as close as the nearest post office or letterbox and closer than the nearest bank.

5.7  Drawbacks

  5.7.1  Too many to replace by 2018: Even if we had a fully accessible ATM design today, it would be unrealistic to expect a comprehensive network roll out by 2018. There are just too many of them that would need to be replaced to make this an effective alternative in these timescales.

  5.7.2  Inaccessible screen: It's not just a question of font and visual contrast. Further issues arise with the screen order, where advertising is slotted in and different screen layouts also make it impossible for a user relying on patterns of button presses where there are no useful visual or audible cues.

  5.7.3  Inaccessible hardware layout: The layout of the hardware is different for each machine, with the money slots and clear, cancel and enter buttons slightly different.

  5.7.4  Audible cues: There are now a few machines with audio output, although we haven't put them through any RNIB trials with our product design or innovation areas. One concern would be that if someone is listening with headphones that they would not hear anyone approaching them so offer a security risk. This could be a possible solution within a bank but then the times of use are limited to working hours.

  5.7.5  Privacy and Security: Blind and partially sighted people have reported that they prefer not to use ATMs because they can't tell who is behind them. Even if machines were accessible, the use of them is still limited and could not therefore replace cheques.

5.8  Cashback

  5.8.1  Summary: If someone is using cheques to get money out of their accounts, or to pay small sums of money to other people, then the ability to get cash back at a shop may be an alternative.

5.9  Benefits

  5.9.1  Convenience: If someone is already going shopping then asking for a small extra sum should not cause inconvenience.

  5.9.2  Established: This is an established method of getting money out.


  6.1.1  Limited use to card users: Someone would need to be paying by Chip and PIN or Chip and Signature to get cashback. Therefore they may not be a heavy cheque user anyway. We've also found instances where a shop will not give cashback because they have an ATM outside and do not want to hold additional cash even if that's just for Chip and Signature users.

  6.1.2  Fixed location: Someone would need to be able to get to a shop that gave cashback in the first place. Cheques can be written in the comfort of the home, so are less location dependent.

6.2  Contactless payment systems

  6.2.1  Summary: This is where a person pays by holding a pre-paid card near a locator.

6.3  Benefits

  6.3.1  Prepaid cards: If you have card that is prepaid, with a fixed amount and you can only spend that amount, then that limits the amount that a mistaken payment would cost you.

  6.3.2  No record: You don't need to sign or key a number into a keypad, but you do need to be able to find the locator that your card is read by.

6.4  Drawbacks

  6.4.1  Lack of accessibility: There are huge accessibility issues with these systems. There is limited take up in London and we have yet to see it spread out, so adoption is still in early stages with sighted users.

  6.4.2  Adding difficulty through prepaid cards: There is also the question of how the cards are paid for in advance. Top up methods for mobile phones through retailers and ATMs just add another level of difficulty.

  6.4.3  Mobile phones: Using mobile phones rather than contactless cards is no better because the mobile phones that are needed to do this are not widely available or accessible to blind and partially sighted people.

  6.4.4  Lack of record: As this is contactless, you do not have the security of a record of proof to know what you have spent, when and with whom.


  7.1.1  Summary: Most banks now offer online banking facilities where you can pay into other bank accounts, keep updated with your own account balance and transactions, set up regular payments and apply for other account services.

7.2  Benefits

  7.2.1  Home location: If you have the technology and access at home then you can do your online banking in the comfort of your own home.

  7.2.2  Proof of transaction: If these websites were accessible then there would be a way of seeing which transactions were being undertaken. However, due to the drawbacks listed below, this is not a viable alternative.

7.3  Drawbacks

  7.3.1  Not fully accessible: Because of the security measures adopted by the banks to protect customers from fraud and other crimes, online banking is not fully accessible. This means that even people who would have been able to see enough to write a cheque, are unable to use them. A review of bank websites by a PhD student demonstrated a shocking lack of accessibility throughout Europe.

  7.3.2  Computer based: Not everyone has a computer. Many people who are using cheques will be in older age groups and less likely to have access to a computer in a location where they are safe, such as home or a private office. Libraries may have computers but they are not private enough to enable people to use them for personal data. Therefore, even if the accessibility issues were overcome, availability of computers in private and secure locations would still be an issue.


  8.1  Whilst RNIB welcomes the undertaking that cheques won't be phased out unless a viable alternative method is available, we are concerned that an alternative method will not be fully accessible for blind and partially sighted people. Using cheques enables many blind and partially sighted people to pay bills and manage their money independently. Any alternative method must provide the same level of independence and security.

March 2010

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