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Supporting citizens’ changing payment preferences

Mark Kowe, Category Manager - Payment Acceptance, reflects on how the coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for change in how the public sector must accept payments.

Payment acceptance is the process by which providers of goods and services are paid by their customers. In a public sector setting, this could be HRMC taking taxes, an NHS Trust accepting money for parking, or a local authority receiving payment for use of its leisure facilities.

Before the pandemic, many organisations viewed payment acceptance as an irregular but necessary business function. As such, when the associated costs – processing fees, card fees, hosted online payment pages, or chip and pin terminals – arose, they were seen as an unavoidable outlay. 

However, the pandemic has seen a rapid shift towards electronic payments. The reduction in cash as the preferred payment method has highlighted the value and strategic importance of developing a cost-effective and value-driven payment strategy. 

This is especially important to public sector organisations in the current climate, where every pound and every hour must be spent as efficiently as possible.

Contact-free payments

The shift towards a cashless society, while already underway, accelerated quickly during the pandemic. The increase from a £30 limit for contactless payments to £45 proved a key driver in the move away from cash payments. With the limit set to increase to £100 later this year, it is certain the shift towards cashless payments is here to stay.

Already this has led to the volume of contactless payments increasing across virtually all sectors and, with consumers demanding contactless payments, organisations had to respond.

Even the smallest of organisations have been forced to react and take card payments. This is usually done via a Mobile Point of Sale – similar to a chip and pin device and links directly to the merchant’s smartphone. Having discovered how easy this is to do, with functionality that can be set up in hours, it seems highly likely this will continue.

Change driving innovation

Since the early days of the pandemic, when the direction of travel became apparent, Payment Acceptance providers, such as those suppliers on our RM6118 Payment Acceptance framework, have been working to create products or features that tackle the challenges organisations are facing. 

QR code payments

One solution is to offer quick response (QR) code payments, enabling organisations to create quick and secure contactless transactions with ease. This gives organisations the ability to accept touch-free payments, without the cost of new hardware. 

QR code payments are becoming increasingly popular, especially in the charity sector. For minimal cost, and without investing in new hardware or launching a new app, these organisations can accept donations or payments with ease. 

There have been some innovative uses of this new technology across the public sector. For example, some art galleries now place a QR code next to a painting. Customers can scan the code and then pick up a print on their way out of the gallery. 

Link to pay

Some organisations have utilised payment links to invoices (an emailed link that a customer can click on to pay their bill online) to support payments that were typically taken over the phone by staff at their call centres or offices in a face-to-face environment. 

The government’s public information website,, uses our Payment Acceptance framework to provide this service to government departments or local government bodies. 

Payment links can be set up in minutes and require no technical integration. They are hosted on, so citizens know they can trust them. Some departments have added links to email replies enabling citizens to pay online invoices for the first time.

Effective solutions for a stronger future

It is now clear that citizens want the flexibility and agility to pay however and whenever to continue.

This means all organisations, from a large government department to a small charity, now must accept cashless payment and have robust plans to deal with the challenges online payment presents, such as higher rates of card fraud and friction with customer authentication.

Our Payment Acceptance framework provides a proven, secure and innovative way to accept payments with a commercial benefit rate of 15% against typical market rates. 

To learn more: 

For more information about how our suite of Financial Services solutions that can help you build back better, whether you need to generate, recover or save money, visit our category page or read our new whitepaper: ‘Effective solutions for a stronger future’. 

You can find a full list of all the commercial agreements we offer, alongside details of how we can help you build policy considerations into your procurement, in our interactive digital brochure.

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