If you anticipate moving to London in the next few years, you may not yet be aware that the UK is mandating that use of checks (or “cheques,” as it’s spelled in British English) be phased out entirely by 2018. This decision came about in December 2009 and will enforced only in the event that viable alternatives are found that would be accessible to the general population.
Not many still flip open a check book these days—it’s so much faster to swipe the plastic at point of sale, pay online, or make a transfer when banking details are provided on invoices. Checks not only take time to write out, but they can incur additional time and fees for processing. On the flipside, many are opposed to the idea of banishing checks as a payment option altogether, primarily for technological reasons. Small businesses continue to rely heavily on the use of checks, and some folks are wary of opening themselves up to fraud by paying solely online (and hey, some may not have convenient access to a computer and internet to begin with, and I certainly wouldn’t want to make payments at a public lab…).
The Treasury Select Committee is reopening its inquiry on the status of checks going forward in view of these obstacles to replacing them entirely as well as a pending cost-benefit analysis of doing so. It is believed there might still need to be some form of paper payment in its place, in which case I would figure why replace paper with paper? Just leave ’em! But I’m not the one investigating and accumulating all the evidence, so we’ll see what time will tell.
In the meantime, if you’re relocating to London soon and looking to rent that apartment and pay down your deposit and first month’s rent straightaway, the check may still be of necessity. In general, I advise against paying this way, though…not to throw our dear little piece of paper under the bus (that would be littering ;)), but in the London lettings market, time is always of the essence. Your future landlord (and the London lettings agency representing them) might be too impatient to wait for a non-UK check to clear in a local bank. Your best bet in this case is indeed to do a bank transfer, which will be even easier for you if you have your UK bank account already set—this is something London Relocation Ltd. will set up for you the same day as your viewings, so you’ll be covered. And trust me, securing that bank account is no small feat when you don’t yet have a UK address to your name. As for understanding sort codes and such for conducting an international bank transfer, please see my earlier blog post, “Transferring Money: How to ‘Sort’ the bank codes ‘SWIFT’-ly.”
At any rate, if you will be signing on the dotted line of your check to pay rent on your London apartment rental and other bills, then the above image is an example of what a typical UK check looks like. I don’t know, though; a friend of mine just told me yesterday that HSBC had sent her a letter notifying of their checks being phased out (within the year, she thinks), so it remains to be seen if your UK bank will offer this option by the time of your London move—plan accordingly.