Card sharp

One sliver of good news from the pandemic was that vendors are now equipped with contactless payment devices, as the cashless society takes hold

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We are approaching two years since the first lockdown was introduced in England. Our vendors spent more than a third of that time unable to work due to restrictions, only returning to the streets in May 2021.

As lockdown eased, we repurposed our hardship fund – money that was raised to support vendors while they were unable to sell the magazine – to ensure they could return to work safely and effectively. Part of this included providing vendors with SumUp contactless payment devices, to take card payments from customers.

Although the pandemic accelerated our move to include contactless payments, amid concerns about virus transmission through exchanging cash, the change was a long time coming. We have seen a decrease in magazine sales since 2015, with both vendors and customers citing the move towards a cashless society as a key barrier to sales.

We aim to set up as many of our vendors as possible with contactless payment devices. Before Christmas last year, vendors across Sheffield were equipped to accept contactless payment courtesy of a grant from the JG Graves Charitable Trust for £3,500. With that we bought 57 SumUp devices for vendors, which were particularly beneficial in the run-up to Christmas.

As well as buying the machines, our staff set up vendors to operate them. This involves acquiring photo ID for vendors who do not have any and helping them open bank accounts. Our latest vendor audit showed that 37 per cent of vendors don’t have a birth certificate, half don’t have a passport and only 15 per cent have a driving license. More than half of vendors surveyed (58 per cent) didn’t have any form of bank account.

One of those was Hughie, who sells in Moreton, Merseyside. Staff in our Liverpool office worked to get him an ID card so that he could accept contactless payments as he returned to work after lockdown. “It’s amazing,” he says.

Like Hughie, Bianca, a vendor based in Wigan, was keen to be able to accept card payments. “It’s a good thing we have them as then people don’t have the excuse of not having any cash on them and a lot of people don’t seem to carry cash anymore,” she explains.

However, Bianca has noticed some people are wary of using their cards to buy the magazine. “A few people use it, but it’s only people who really trust me that come to buy with a card. Other people aren’t so sure. It’s going to take a little time until people know that we can take cards because when people hear that I have a card machine they often laugh and can’t believe that a vendor would take cards.”

Chris, who sells the magazine in Manchester city centre, agrees.

“It would be good for people to understand it’s safe to pay by card. It [the money] comes straight to my bank. It takes a couple of days to reach me, and we get the percentage of the sale we would when taking cash, but it’s good to have it because less and less people use cash.”

Some customers may be wary about getting their card out on the street, or worry about security, but it really is no different from using a payment device in a store or restaurant. The SumUp contactless devices that our vendors use accept payment cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay.

We believe that the more vendors we can support to have card payment devices, the better. This is not only to help vendors maintain sales but to ensure their safety and that of their customers in the wake of the pandemic.

It costs £119 to buy a vendor a contactless card machine, and – if required – photo ID to operate it costs £30. All donations to Big Issue North can contribute towards these costs and help us to change lives, none of which would be possible without your support.

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