The coppers sitting in the nation’s piggy banks and jam jars have come under the spotlight - but what does it all mean? Vicky Shaw reports.

Do you reach for the notes and coins in your wallet when popping out to buy a few bits and bobs, or do you simply swipe with your plastic?

Rewind a decade or so, and it might have seemed strange to ‘tap and go’ instead of using cash - but for many people, that’s now a firm everyday habit.

And as technology such as contactless payments continues to grow in popularity, the way we use cash has become a hot topic following the UK Government’s spring statement.

Here’s a look at what’s been said and how our use of cash is changing...

What’s happening?

In the recent spring statement, the UK Government launched a consultation into the role of cash and digital payments, which will close on June 5. It wants to hear from people, consumer groups, charities and industry bodies.

What does this mean for the future of 1p and 2p coins?

The consultation document does not ask specifically whether the 1p and the 2p coin should be ditched - but it does ask for opinions on whether the current denominational mix of having eight different coins and four banknotes meets current and future needs, and if not, how it should change.

After this sparked fears that coppers may be in for the chop, the UK Government then signalled that 1p and 2p coins are unlikely to be scrapped, with the consultation simply intended to enable a better understanding of the role of cash.

So why have coppers been put under the spotlight?

It’s thought that around six in 10 of the overall amount of 1p and 2p coins are only used once in transactions, before they disappear out of the cash cycle.

In some cases, this could be because they end up sitting in jam jars and piggy banks, or piled up on sideboards. But in a staggering 8% of cases, they are thrown away.

To make up for so many disappearing coppers, in the past, this has meant over 500 million 1p and 2p coins have had to be produced each year to replace them.

What about banknotes?

At the other end of the spectrum, the £50 banknote is believed to be rarely used for routine purchases. There is also a perception among some people that high-value £50 notes are associated with criminal activity, the consultation says.

What concerns were raised over the possibility of some denominations disappearing?

Some have raised concerns that if copper coins were ditched, this could be the start of a more dramatic move towards a ‘cashless society’. Paying digitally for goods is not a suitable option for some people.

Others have raised concerns about the potential impact on charities, and there have also been suggestions that consumers could be hit in the wallet if prices were to be simply rounded up in the absence of the 1p coin.

So how is our relationship with cash expected to change beyond the trends we’re already seeing?

Recent years have seen a huge surge in the use of contactless payments, when we once may have rummaged around our wallets for some cash.

In fact, we’re so used to reaching for plastic nowadays that by the end of this year, debit cards are expected to have overtaken cash as the most frequently-used payment method.

Industry body UK Finance says it expects this landmark in our spending habits to happen some time around the last three months of 2018.

Do these trends mean we’re eventually going to be a cashless society

Some people are already living a largely cashless life. In 2016, 2.9 million people used cash once a month or less often. But, at the same time, around 2.7 million people relied predominantly on cash for their day-to-day spending.

According to UK Finance, cash will still account for a fifth of all payments made in the UK in 2026. So it looks like we may still have use for those piggy banks for a while yet.