The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a shift among Australian retailers to card-only payments. Now a meme claims shoppers who only have cash can walk out of a store with goods they haven’t paid for.
The meme shared on Facebook reads: “When a registered dealer refuses cash for goods, the goods are yours for free.”
The claim is false with experts telling AAP FactCheck it is simply not the case.
The Reserve Bank of Australia details legal tender and transactions in Australia on its website, saying that a provider of goods is free to set the commercial terms upon which payment will take place.
“For example, some vending machines, parking meters and road toll collection points indicate by signs that they will not accept low denomination coins,” it says.
“Some road toll collection points indicate that they will not accept any cash at all. If a provider of goods or services specifies other means of payment prior to the contract, then there is usually no obligation for legal tender to be accepted as payment.”
Dr John Selby, an honorary research fellow at Macquarie University with significant experience teaching contracts, torts, corporations law and tax law, says the issue is the stipulation of what payments are accepted before the transaction is made.
“A business should make it clear to its customers (in advance of ordering) if they do not accept payment through certain methods (e.g. not accepting cash, or American Express, etc),” Dr Selby told AAP FactCheck in an email.
Professor Jeannie Paterson, who teaches and researches in the areas of consumer protection and consumer credit law, agreed that a seller must specify before the transaction about what kind of payments will be accepted.
But she said that if a business refused to accept cash payments for goods, they were not legally the customer’s items to take.
“If the parties have made a contract and the buyer tenders the precise payment amount specified in the contract in cash, then the seller must accept that ‘legal tender’,” Prof Paterson said in an email.
“But the buyer doesn’t get the goods for free if the seller refuses to accept the cash tender. Rather the buyer has a right to sue the seller for repudiating or breaching the contract.
“However, a seller is free to specify before any contract is made that they will only accept a certain kind of payment – credit card, direct transfer, peppercorns or even Bitcoin. If the seller does this, then they do not have to accept a tender of cash.”
Professor Justin Malbon, an adjunct professor teaching and researching in the fields of international trade law and consumer and commercial law at Griffith University Law School, said he was not aware of any Australian law requiring a business to accept payment in cash.
But he said there had been debate in the US about mandating retailers to accept cash if it is offered as payment, in order to remove discrimination against low income customers who do not have access to banking facilities such as credit cards.
Referencing a Conversation article on the issue, Prof Malbon told AAP FactCheck: “If I go into a shop and collect a pair of shoes to buy and only offer cash as payment, the shop can refuse to accept that form of payment and I would have to leave the shop shoeless (or at least, without those pair of new shoes).
“It gets a bit tricker with, say, buying petrol. If the retailer lets me fill up my car with petrol before I pay, then on having filled the car with petrol, I now have a debt to the retailer for the cost of the petrol. I offer to pay in cash, the retailer refuses cash payment.
“In my view, the refusal to accept cash payment does not waive the debt. I still owe the money. The retailer might have to take legal action against me to get the money owed. The retailer could make things clearer legally by having a sign at the bowser saying that it does not accept payments in cash. It might add that if I start filling my car with petrol I accept the terms of the contract – i.e. payment is not to be in cash.”
There is no Australian law that compels a business to accept cash as payment for goods – and if cash is refused, a shopper is not allowed to take the goods without paying. Businesses are expected to state, before the transaction is made, what payments they will accept, experts told AAP FactCheck. Even where that may not be clear, there is no legal obligation on a business to let a customer have the goods for free.
False – The claim is inaccurate.