Britain bounces checks after 300 years

Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:56am EST
 
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By Elizabeth Fullerton

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - After more than three centuries, the humble check is set to become a historic relic after British banks voted to phase it out in favor of more modern payment methods.

The board of the UK Payments Council, the body for setting payment strategy in Britain, agreed on Wednesday to set a target date of October 31, 2018 for winding up the check clearing system. The board is largely made up of Britain's leading banks.

"There are many more efficient ways of making payments than by paper in the 21st century, and the time is ripe for the economy as a whole to reap the benefits of its replacement," Paul Smee, the council chief executive, said in a statement.

The use of checks has fallen drastically in the past 10 years as more consumers transfer money electronically, by direct debit or with debit and credit cards. Last year, around 3.8 million checks were written every day in Britain, compared to a peak of 10.9 million in 1990, the council said.

It costs about one pound to process every check.

"The next generation probably won't even have a checkbook," said Addy Frederick, a spokeswoman at the payments council.

But while many UK supermarkets, high street retailers and petrol stations have stopped accepting checks, they are still a popular form of payment among elderly people, many of whom find the idea of using automated cash machines intimidating.

"Chip and pin is problematic for many older and housebound people and we know 6.4 million over 65s have never used the internet," said Vicky Smith, a spokeswoman for the charity Age Concern.   Continued...

 
<p>An Abbey National cheque book is pictured in London July 26, 2004. BANKG REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>