Shops can refuse to take cash even though it’s legal tender

18 July 2023
What was claimed

Refusing cash in a shop is an offence. No shop or store can stop you buying with cash as it’s legal tender.

Our verdict

It is legal for shops to not accept cash. Cash being legal tender has a narrow technical definition around repaying debts.

A post on Facebook with over 300 shares claims it’s an offence for a shop to refuse to take payment in cash, as it is legal tender.

The post says: “Refusing legal tender Cash is an offence! No shop or store can stop you buying with cash it is legal tender [sic]”.

But this is not true. It is completely legal for individual businesses, such as shops, to decline certain forms of payment, like cash, or card.

In a response to a petition asking the government to make it unlawful for shops to refuse cash payments, it responded: “The government does not plan to mandate cash acceptance.

“While the government recognises the ability to transact in cash remains important to millions of people across the UK, particularly those in vulnerable groups, it remains the choice of individual businesses as to whether to accept or decline any form of payment, including cash or card. This may be based on factors such as customer preference and cost.”

The Bank of England also says that shop owners “can choose what payment they accept", as does money expert Martin Lewis.

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In England and Wales, Royal Mint coins and Bank of England notes are classed as legal tender. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Bank says it’s only Royal Mint coins that count. There are also other rules about which coins constitute legal tender depending on the amount they add up to. Cheques, debit cards and contactless aren’t legal tender.

According to the Bank of England, the fact that cash is “legal tender” doesn’t mean shops have to accept it as payment.

According to the Bank: “Legal tender has a narrow technical meaning which has no use in everyday life. It means that if you offer to fully pay off a debt to someone in legal tender, they can’t sue you for failing to repay.”

The Royal Mint adds that cash being legal tender does not mean “that any ordinary transaction has to take place in legal tender”.

Social media posts like this one risk misinforming the public on laws that govern how we all live, which leave them misinformed on vital topics like how they can spend their money, which may even risk getting them in trouble legally.

We’ve checked other false posts about the status of cash, including that Nando’s and Starbucks in the UK are no longer accepting it, Sweden is abolishing it, and that the World Health Organisation advised people to use contactless instead to stop Covid-19 spreading. 

Image courtesy of Sarah Agnew

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