Debit cards have overtaken cash as the most frequently used payment method in the UK, according to UK Finance. At the end of 2017, UK consumers had made 13.2 billion debit card payments compared to 13.1 billion cash payments. 

The popularity of contactless payments is key driver of debit card growth. The number of contactless payments increased by 97 percent during 2017 to 5.6 billion across both debit and credit cards. Almost two thirds (63 percent) of people in the UK now use contactless payments, and no age group or region falls below 50 percent usage.

The strong uptake of contactless payments is echoed in the latest figures from Transport for London (TfL). Half of all tube and rail pay-as-you-go journeys across London are now made using contactless payment cards or mobile devices. This is equivalent to around 17 million journeys a week. Several stations are consistently seeing more than 60 percent of all pay-as-you-go journeys made using contactless payments. For example, almost 500,000 such journeys are made from Oxford Circus every week — the equivalent of 50 cards touching in every minute.

London has also introduced a contactless card payment scheme for street performers. Busk in London has partnered with technology company iZettle to equip performers with card readers. The project allows street musicians across the capital to accept payments via cash, contactless cards, wearables and chip and PIN.

Despite the 15 percent fall in cash payments, cash still accounts for just over one third (34 percent) of all UK payments. It remains second only to debit cards. Around 2.2 million consumers mainly used cash to pay in 2017. These people were not necessarily unwilling or unable to use other methods of payment. Nine out of ten of them had a debit card they could use if they chose. The majority also used other payment methods to settle regular bills.

The number of cash payments is expected to fall over the next ten years, as consumers turn to alternative payment methods. There are expected to be 6.4 billion cash payments in 2027, accounting for 16 percent of all payments.

“We’re far from becoming a cash-free society and despite the UK transforming to an economy where cash is less important than it once was, it will remain a payment method that continues to be valued and preferred by many,” said Stephen Jones, chief executive, UK Finance.

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