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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 September 2005, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Shell bans payment by cheque
Shell petrol station
Shell said its staff had consistently complained about cheques

Shell has become the first major retailer in the UK to stop accepting cheques as a form of payment in its 900 petrol stations.

The energy giant said the time and cost involved in processing cheques was now disproportionate to the number it receives.

It added that less than 1% of its customers now ask to pay by cheque, due to an increase in the use of debit cards and the introduction of Chip and Pin.

Shell said it expects minimal inconvenience to customers as cheque guarantee cards can also be used as debit cards.

This development will fuel the debate about whether the end is near for cheques, which have been used for hundreds of years.

In August, Halifax bank predicted that if current trends continued cheques could fall out of use within 20 years.

'Massive drop'

Sandra Quinn, Apacs
They are a niche product, that is what they are becoming
Sandra Quinn, Apacs
However, Sandra Quinn of the Association of Payment Clearing Services, denied it is the beginning of the end for cheques.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme she said: "I don't think we are seeing the beginning. We are seeing a period where cheque use has stopped growing in the way it used to grow.

"Up until 1990 we were still using four billion cheques a year. Now, only 6% of retail payments are made by cheque. So there has been a massive drop.

"They are a niche product. That is what they are becoming."

"The kind of thing we use them for is to pay friends... to substitute where we can't use a card in an easy way."

The programme approached a number of retailers to ask if they had any plans to ditch cheques.

BP, M&S, Woolworths, Tesco, Asda, and John Lewis all said they had no plans to do so at present.

Cashless future?

Meanwhile, Tesco has been vehemently denying reports that it has been considering opening cashless stores.

On Saturday, newspapers reported comments made by the store's IT strategic development director, during an interview in which he talked about future innovation in retail.

Cash and cheques are not going anywhere
Sandra Quinn, Apacs
But speaking to the programme, a Tesco spokeswoman said any suggestion it was currently considering cashless stores was "nonsense".

However, Sandra Quinn of Apacs said she could understand if stores were considering this option. "Cash costs retailers money," she said.

"They have to store it, they have to keep it securely, they have to count it and they have to bank it. So you can see them looking at the options. But again the cashless society is some way off.

"Cash and cheques aren't going anywhere, so those people who do not want to use plastic will still have alternatives."

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 10 September, 2005 at 1204 BST.

The programme was repeated on Sunday, 11 September, 2005 at 2102 BST.

Money Box



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