Debit cards most popular form of payment but we’re far from a cash-free society

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UK debit cards transactions overtook cash as the most popular form of payment in the UK for the first time, banking industry figures show.

There were 13.2 billion debit card payments in 2017, up from 14% compared to 2016 – just tipping the 13.1 billion payments made in cash, according to a report by UK Finance. 

The body said the tipping point occurred in the final quarter of 2017 - a few months earlier than it had previously forecast.

Use of contactless payment cards almost doubled to 5.6bn transactions. UK Finance estimates 63 per cent of people in the UK now use contactless payments, which were first introduced a decade ago. About 3.4m people almost never used cash, instead relying on cards.

Adam Herson, the business development director of Barclaycard, said: "More recently, we have seen a surge in the use of wearable and mobile payments, creating new, exciting opportunities for both shoppers and brands.

"Consumers are increasingly able to match their payment accessory or device to their lifestyle or fashion taste."

The average adult made 54 payments a month last year, 20 by debit card and 20 by cash, including nine contactless payments. By 2027, the average adult is expected to make 22 contactless payments per month.

UK Finance said that while cash use is expected to continue to fall over the next decade, it is not about to die out as a form of payment. Cash is still the second most frequently used payment method, after debit cards.

Stephen Jones, chief executive of UK Finance, said: "The choice of payment options available in the UK is allowing people to choose to pay the way that best suits them. 

“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.”