Homeless miss out as Aussies stop carrying cash

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Paying for goods and services with a card or phone is becoming the norm, and carrying around cash has become a rarity.

But for homeless people who rely on cash donations to get by, times are getting tougher.

According to the Reserve Bank, there's $1.1 billion less cash in circulation than a year ago, and most Australians are 'low cash users'. In fact, while we paid cash for 70% of our purchases in 2007, now we use it for only 13% of what we buy.

unhoused australians miss out as cash usage declines

ATMs are disappearing, too, making it harder to make a quick cash withdrawal for someone in need.

Some organisations are taking matters into their own hands.

Vendors selling copies of The Big Issue street newspaper, for example, can be set up with PayID or a Square device for card payments and about a third of sales are made via tap-and-go.

"Vendors have shown incredible resilience over the past years, working through challenging circumstances to earn an income and improve their lives," says Amy Hetherington, editor of The Big Issue.

"Sales are down compared to pre-COVID levels as a result of reduced foot traffic and the declining use of cash."

Research also shows passersby are less willing to donate using tap-and-go due to scepticism or distrust, and many cashless payments require a bank account, a phone number that doesn't change or a fixed address - all things that can be challenging to maintain for anyone living on the street.

In Australia, more than 100,000 people are homeless on any given night, according to the Salvation Army.

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Joanna Tovia is a senior journalist at Money magazine. She is the former personal finance editor of The Daily Telegraph and author of Eco-Wise & Wealthy, a book about saving money by going green at home. She has worked as a journalist in the US, UK and Australia writing about money, travel, design and wellbeing. Connect with her on LinkedIn.