Australians advised to ditch cash for cards to curb Coronavirus spread

Olivia Gee

Friday 27 March 2020

Like other items or surfaces that come into contact with viruses, cash has the ability to carry and spread COVID-19. 

Australian currency (notes and coins) which shoppers are being advised not use during Coronavirus. 

While the World Health Organisation hasn’t made an official warning about using physical money (they do recommend washing your hands after handling currency), the Australian Department of Health has referenced payment methods in their social distancing policy. It suggests shoppers use tap-and-go payments over cash in public whenever possible.

New research from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) shows this advice may only be one small nail in the coffin of cash use in Australia. Its report on consumer payment behaviour has shown a steady decline in the use of cash, with notes and coins accounting for 69% of transactions in 2007, falling to 37% by 2016, and just 27% in 2019.

As cash has slowly been toppled off its throne, cards have taken over more of this market share, growing from 26% in 2007 to 63% in 2019. Debit cards are leading the race for payment method royalty with a 44% market share last year.

RELATED ARTICLE: Buy Now Pay Later spending is set to double by 2023.

Is it legal for businesses to refuse cash?

If you do have some physical moolah and need to use it right now, it may be frustrating if cafés and services still operating in a take-away capacity refuse your notes and coins. But technically, they have a right to do so.

The all-encompassing notion of merchants having to accept legal tender is not accurate. The RBA has specific legal protocols around this, such as price limits on what can be paid for in small denominations (so no, restaurants don’t have to accept your bag of 20 cent coins for a $30 meal) as well as the rights of providers. 

Businesses offering goods and services set the terms of payment agreements. So, if a sign on a café says they won’t be accepting cash to curb the spread of Coronavirus, you must adhere to that deal if you want a latte.

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