WHEN TV sitcom actor Reg Varney launched the UK’s first cash machine in 1967, it was a landmark event.

Two decades later, the debit card was introduced, enabling people to make financial transactions directly from their bank accounts.

Ideal for the payment of larger sums of money, the debit card became the king of convenience. It was safer than handling a bundle of bank notes, and even pushed the use of cheques down the pecking order.

More recent advancements, such as chip and pin devices, and the ability to pay for goods as cheap as chewing gum by card, has meant that less of us are now using cash to purchase everyday items.

A new report has suggested that the UK is “sleepwalking” towards becoming a cashless society within the next 15 years.

But while many of us purchase our morning coffee with the quick beep of a contactless payment, will everyone be content with such a development? And what impact will it have on rural areas such as Tynedale? Bank branches have closed, and cash machines have been lost in the district, while outlying communities have struggled to get adequate internet and mobile phone services.

Research by Access To Cash, a consortium of payment experts, has warned that eight million people in the UK rely on bank notes and coins to make payments, and will face major problems if digital devices become the only accepted options.

The researchers claimed that cash use has halved over the past decade, and said people in rural communities, as well as the elderly and vulnerable, would be among the hardest hit if cash and coins were withdrawn.

Access to Cash expressed concerns that vulnerable people would be more likely to get scammed or defrauded in a cashless society, and families on low incomes might struggle to balance household budgets, while some people may struggle to manage their money.

Natalie Ceeney, who chaired the Access to Cash review said: “The decline in the use of cash has been dramatic, and with rapid technology development and adoption this trend will continue.

“If we don’t plan carefully for a world of lower cash, if we sleepwalk into a cashless society, millions of people will be left behind.

“As cash use continues to fall, we need to safeguard the use of cash for those who need it, and at the same time work hard to ensure that everyone can participate in this digital economy.”

Stonehaugh resident Phil Robertson is part of a campaign aiming to bring fibre broadband to his community, in a bid to improve painfully slow internet speeds.

He said: “In these areas, you might be able to pay by card at the local shop, but everything else is cash payments.”

“I know people who withdraw their pension in cash every week.

“It’s a far cry from life in the urban areas, where everyone seems to pay for everything by card.”

Ben Broadbent, deputy governor for monetary policy at the Bank of England, remained positive about the continued use of cash. He said: “We believe it is important the public has choice in how they make payments.

“The UK has seen a decline in the use of cash. However, we also think that cash is likely to remain a very important part of the payments landscape for a long time.”

The UK Cards Association claimed that digital payments is safer for retailers, who can avoid keeping cash on their premises, and making trips to the bank.