Is denial of cash payments in the time of the coronavirus pandemic legal?
Due to the rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in Poland, the Ministry of Health and Development and the GIS have published a list of recommendations, the use of which allows to reduce the risk of infection. In addition to frequent hand washing, systematic disinfection of everyday items or limiting personal contacts, there is also the avoidance of cash payments. As a result, retail outlets, pharmacies and drugstores began to refuse to accept banknotes and coins. Is such action legal under the law?
Can the seller refuse to accept cash? UOKiK and the Ministry of Finance answer
In fear of being infected with the coronavirus, which may be on banknotes and coins, in line with government recommendations, many business entities have stopped accepting cash and started making payments only with payment cards, the Blik system or the telephone. Meanwhile, as indicated by the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, this is an illegal action.
Article 32 of the Act on the National Bank of Poland specifies that the legal means of payment in Poland are currency (banknotes and coins) issued by the NBP. So if the buyer pays with legal banknotes or coins, the seller has no right to refuse to accept them. In doing so, in accordance with Art. 135 of the Petty Offenses Code, commits an offense. It refuses to sell the goods without justification, which may result in the imposition of a fine.
It should also be emphasized that in Poland non-cash payments are an addition, not a rule. Therefore, it is difficult to expect that buyers who have previously only paid for their purchases in cash will change their habits so quickly and give up banknotes and coins. Importantly, however, the store staff who refuse to accept cash payments are not at fault in this case. It carries out the instructions of its employer.
The Ministry of Finance presents a completely different position on this matter. Referring to the principle of freedom of contract expressed in Art. 353  of the Civil Code, it emphasizes that “the parties concluding the contract may arrange the legal relationship at their discretion, as long as its content or purpose does not contradict the properties (nature) of the relationship, the law or the principles of social coexistence”. What does this mean in practice? That the seller may refuse to accept cash payments, as long as he informs the customer about it before concluding the transaction, for example, in a prominent place he places the word “payment by card only”.
The above ambiguities and legal deliberations could be avoided if the Ministry of Health published reliable information on the possibility of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus through cash. Is the fear of using banknotes and coins really justified?
Does paying in cash pose a health risk? WHO position
Out of concern for the safety of citizens, the Ministry of Health has published information that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends avoiding cash and promoting the use of payment cards in return. This is also supported by the Ministry of Economic Development, which in e-mails sent to entrepreneurs encourages to minimize contact with cash.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has long denied the false information that cash carried the coronavirus. The German Federal Bank officially states that the risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from cash is extremely low, and the Central Bank of Canada recommends that retail companies continue to accept cash. Other central banks and virologists around the world are speaking in a similar vein.
Despite this, the Polish Ministries of Health, Development and Finance have still not revoked their recommendations on avoiding cash payments, which is why this information is still used in media publications and misleads citizens. In this difficult time for all, the authorities should place particular emphasis on disseminating reliable information about the coronavirus. There is a lot of fake news and manipulations on the Internet, which fuel uncertainty, fear and panic in society, further destabilizing the dynamically changing reality.
As a group of companies specializing in cash handling services, offering money escort and handling CDMs throughout Poland, CHL Holding appeals to the Polish authorities to provide reliable information about the minimal risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus via cash. As WHO emphasizes, there may also be germs on the payment card and the phone. Therefore, regardless of the payment method, in order to reduce the risk of infection, you should absolutely follow the rules of hygiene, i.e. wash your hands often and do not touch your face.