MPs demand continued protection for cheques

Banks must not abandon them by stealth, warns Treasury Committee

Cheques were to be abolished
Cheques were to be abolished

The Treasury Committee has called on the Payments Council to ensure banks do not "abandon cheques by stealth" and to consider bringing back cheque guarantee cards.

The committee of MPs opened an inquiry into the future of cheques after the Payments Council, a membership organisation for the payments industry, announced in 2009 that it planned to abolish cheques by 2018.

However, the council announced in July that it was abandoning the target, less than a month after giving oral evidence to the committee.  

In its report on the future of cheques, published today, the committee welcomes the announcement and recommends banks should send the Payments Council advance copies of any materials they produce for customers relating to the future availability of cheques.

"The Payments Council must ensure that the banks do not attempt to abandon cheques by stealth, or deter customers from using cheques," the report says.

"In addition, each bank should be required to write to its customers stating that cheques will continue to be in use for the foreseeable future."

The committee says the Payments Council’s decision to announce a target date for the abolition of cheques without saying what might replace them "caused deep concern among customers".

It calls on the council to examine reintroducing cheque guarantee cards, which were abolished in June. The committee says the abolition had "directly led to more businesses refusing to accept cheques".

It also recommends that the structure of the Payments Councils’ board is changed to "strengthen the voice of consumers among the independent members" and that the Treasury should bring the council formally within the financial regulation system.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, which recently wrote to the UK’s major banks and building societies asking them to set out what steps they were taking to ensure cheques did not wither away, said that bringing back the cheque guarantee card would show the future of cheques was safe.

"But, whatever happens, the banking industry must be clear about what it will do to ensure that cheques remain a widely accepted, safe and accessible option for those who rely on them," she said.

Gary Hocking, acting chief executive of the Payments Council, said it was putting in place plans to continue to process cheques efficiently and securely despite falling numbers.

He said the council’s governance arrangements were due for review before the end of the year.

"We are about to undertake research to assess the impact that the closure of the cheque guarantee scheme will have on cheque usage and businesses, and we will publish the results," he added.

The government has two months to respond to the report.

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