Senator Gerard Rennick has backed a decision by Woolworths to reduce its cash withdrawal limit as supermarkets are not banks

A prominent Senator involved in investigating the decline of banking services has backed a contentious move by Woolworths to descrease its cash withdrawl limits.

Senator Gerard Rennick, who sits on the government committee conducting an inquiry into bank closures in regional Australia, has thrown his support behind Woolworths’ decision, telling “they’re not a bank”.

Senator Rennick said that instead of people having to resort to withdrawing cash from the supermarket, “banks have got a social obligation to stay open and provide banking transactions and services.”

He accused Australia’s banks of “funnelling the responsibility” of providing cash to other businesses such as post offices and supermarkets.

The comments follow a recent article which revealed that ANZ has scrapped the deposit and withdrawal of smaller cash denominations in some branches, and a decision by Woolworths to reduce the amount of cash customers can withdraw per transaction.

In September, the supermarket giant reduced its cash withdrawal limit from $500 to $200 and in October it introduced the need to make a purchase in order to withdraw cash.

A Woolworths spokesperson said the decision was “due to the lack of cash being used in transactions, with the majority of customers opting for card-only transactions”.

“We understand cash remains an important payment option for some customers and that’s why we’ll continue to offer the ability to withdraw cash,” the spokesperson added.

However, it is understood that an increase in the demand for cash from its supermarkets may also have been behind the decision.

It comes at a time when bank branches are closing, and ATMs are being removed.

Several customers contacted to express their dismay at the move by Woolworths, where they have been withdrawing cash due to either bank branch closures, ATM removals or to avoid fees charged by non-bank ATMs.

“The local Woolies has put a restriction on their cash-out process, probably because all the ANZ customers were going in there to withdraw money,” one customer said.

Another customer complained: “To withdraw cash I have to use the system in place at Woolworths, which limits me to $200 per withdrawal, and takes ages, or go through an ATM, which incurs charges.”

Another third customer said they saw a sign at their local Woolworths “stating that due to the overwhelming cash only withdrawals they have now put a $200 limit with a purchase only”.

“Clearly people need to access cash without paying fees and driving miles to a bank,” the customer said.

“I have kids that earn pocket money that require cash payments. Their school P&C run functions at school [that] also require cash, all the fundraising dress-up events with donations are done with cash.”

“Cash isn’t just for drug dealers and oldies!”

Several commenters on a Reddit thread about the change at Woolworths were supportive of the move.

“It’s not a bank, I would understand if they didn’t allow it at all,” one wrote.

Another said: “I don’t really have any issue with this. They aren’t a bank.”

“Supermarkets are not set up to replace people withdrawing money from bank branches and ATMs. Up to the banks to provide customer service,” another commenter wrote.

At Coles, a spokesperson confirmed customers can access a maximum of $300 as a cash withdrawal at self-service check-outs, or up to $400 at a staffed checkout lane or service desk.

In both cases, a purchase is required and withdrawals are subject to the availability of cash in the till.

A Coles spokesperson said the company has “no plans to change this policy and are committed to offering payment choice for our customers”.

“We understand cash availability and usage continues to be a preference for some customers,” the spokesperson added.

However, according to a Coles employee posting on Reddit: “Our store has had a $200 limit for a fair while, there’s no banks nearby so everyone comes to our store for cash and we would run out frequently.”

Senator Rennick dismissed the argument commonly cited by the Big 4 banks that Australians are shunning cash in favour of digital banking.

He said that while the latest consumer payments survey from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) shows that just 13 per cent of Australians use cash frequently, that still equates to more than three million of Australia’s 26 million-strong population.

Senator Rennick said small businesses, older Australians, immigrants and community groups are being particularly disadvantaged by our move to a cashless society.

In a recent speech to a payment industry conference, RBA governor Michele Bullock said that despite the decline in the use of cash it “remains an important means of payment for some people and is widely held for precautionary or store-of-wealth purposes”.

“Cash is also an important backup method of payment during system outages or natural disasters, when electronic payments might be unavailable,” Ms Bullock said, bringing to mind the recent Optus network outage.

“For these reasons, the RBA places a high priority on the community continuing to have reasonable access to cash withdrawal and deposit services.”

However, Ms Bullock added that the decline in cash usage is “affecting the economics of providing cash services and putting pressure on the cash distribution system”.

“We are keen to see the industry maintaining a broad coverage of ATMs at reasonable prices, particularly in regional and remote areas.”

She added that the banking industry, government and the RBA “will need to work together on maintaining access to cash”.

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