Figures from the Payments Council reveal that cashless payments overtook traditional cash payments in 2014 for the first time ever. The number of cash payments made by consumers, businesses and financial organisations in the UK fell to 48 per cent last year (from 52 per cent in 2013).
So while the UK is in the midst of a steady trend to use automated payment methods and debit cards rather than pay by notes and coins, what is the situation in schools? An increasing number of schools are taking steps to become ‘cashless’, removing the need for parents to send cash or cheques to school to pay for school dinners, trips, fees, fundraising and other services. In fact, 90 per cent of parents stated that they preferred to pay schools online, according to a survey from LACA (formerly the Local Authority Caterers Association), and two of its partners ParentPay and food suppliers Birds Eye.
Why cashless? For schools, cashless payments reduce the time it takes to handle cash in school, which saves money and frees up resources to be used in other ways. Many systems will automatically generate emails, texts and letters to remind parents of when balances are due, reducing the task of chasing parents for money.
For parents, it gives them the peace of mind that money is being spent in the way it is intended - on a school dinner, club or trip – rather than a visit to sweet shop at lunchtime for example.
There is also a safety element involved, as cash carried in person can provoke theft.
The case for catering Regarding catering, a cashless system can potentially prevent discrimination – paying by cash makes it very obvious which children are eligible for free school meals (FSM), but if all meals are paid for the same way, then this is no longer the case. In fact, the LACA survey revealed that 4.9 per cent of those entitled to a free meal do not take up their entitlement, possibly due to parents not wanting their children to face potential embarrassment and discrimination. A cashless catering system also allows parents to review how much was spent at lunchtime, as well as what they spent it on and the nutritional information of the food.
Reducing admin time Theale Green Community School introduced a cashless system for all its income collection, including school trips, catering, fundraising, and so on. Maria Tillett, the school’s Business Manager, joined the school from a background in banking and was surprised by the amount of administrative time that was taken up by collecting money, and decided to introduce a cashless payment system. The system has helped streamline the school processes and greatly reduced its paperwork. Many staff benefitted from the time savings, and when one person left for career progression, it was possible to re-distribute her work to other members of the team. Coupled with the administrative efficiencies, the school has saved significant time and money using the system. What’s more Free School Meal take up has risen from 50 per cent to 95 per cent, possibly because pupils no longer feel stigmatised, as there is nothing to visibly set them apart from their peers.
Meanwhile, all primary schools in Solihull now use cashless systems which allow parents to make payments 24 hours a day, seven days a week either online or at a local PayPoint Store.
Since the project began in 2011 almost 400,000 transactions have been made with over £12 million being processed through the system, equating approximately £40,000 each month.
Removing cash out of schools has reduced paper work and admin time, by reducing printing and stationary costs and the need for secure money collections. In Solihull this has averaged out to saving schools two and a half days’ administration a month, a significant amount of time which can be spent on other aspects of running a school.