UK debit cards reach 100 million for first time

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There are now more than 100 million debit cards in circulation in the UK for the first time.The milestone was passed in April, the latest figures from The UK Cards Association show.

The number of debit cards in the UK has grown by 2.7% in the past year, up from 97.6 million to 100.3 million in April 2016. The 50 million card mark was passed in February 2001.

Meanwhile, debit card spending reached £37.8 billion in April, up 6.8% from £36.5 billion the previous year. The growth in the number of debit cards reflects the changing ways in which consumers make payments and access their money.

Consumers opening new bank accounts routinely receive debit cards as standard. The number of ATM-only cards has been falling substantially in recent years, while cheque guarantee-only cards ended with the closure of the scheme in 2011. A total of 61.8 million debit cards now feature contactless technology.

“Since they were first launched in the UK in June 1987, debit cards have become a prime feature in the nation’s wallets,” notes Richard Koch, Head of Policy at The UK Cards Association.

“Now, almost 30 years later, more than half of all retail sales in the UK are made using a debit card. More recently, it has been the growth of contactless, as well as the increasing use of debit cards for online shopping, that has been driving the changes.”

Payment card spending

UK debit card spend

Total spending on payment cards in April was £53 billion, up by 0.9% on March, the strongest monthly growth in 13 months. The number of card purchases also increased, also up by 0.9% in the month, reaching a total of just under 1.2 billion.

Contactless cards accounted for 16% of total card purchases in April, up from 6% in 2015. There were 188 million contactless transactions in the month, worth a total of £1.58 billion.

Spending by sector

  • Retail sector spending decreased by £126 million to £24.5 billion in March, while service sector spending rose by £347 million to £28.5 billion.
  • Educational establishments, amusement parks and garden centres all saw large increases in spending, reflecting the impending deadline for third term tuition fees and half term holidays.
  • The debit and credit card share of total retail sales was 77.5% in March.