Volume 58, Number 12, December 2021
An old chestnut EVERY now and then a coin-related story breaks close to home, and when one does you can’t blame me for mentioning it here! In this case it is that old chestnut of legal tender and what you can and cannot spend and where. Essentially a gentleman tried to pay for £60 worth of petrol in our local Tesco filling station with a silver £100 coin (the Trafalgar Square one if you’re interested) and was refused. When he said that Tesco were obliged to take the coin as it was “legal tender” they again refused and asked him to pay another ay, he claimed he couldn’t as he had no other payment means on him so they called the police. The boys in blue duly arrived and as the gentleman in question refused to fill in the “no means to pay” form Tesco handed him (claiming he had offered payment and thus did have the means to pay) they arrested him. The reason the story hit the headlines down here was that when the whole thing came to court it was decided he’d been wrongfully arrested and he was awarded damages of £5,000! Of course, the story is never as simple as it seems and in this case the gentleman knew he might have trouble spending his £100 coin (which apparently he’d purchased on an auction site for just £80 so was hoping to make a tidy profit by getting £40 change) as he’d tried the same thing before and knew that it wouldn’t be a straightforward transaction. That said, his damages were apparently awarded because he, rightfully, claimed he did offer payment and so shouldn’t have been arrested for refusing to fill in a form that said he couldn’t pay! It’s all a bit convoluted but once again brought into focus the nature of “legal tender” commemorative coins. The fact is that legal tender is a narrow term relating to paying a fine in court, so had the gentleman been sued by Tesco he could have paid any resulting fine by using his £100 coin, no problem, BUT Tesco, or any other retailer for that matter, are not obliged to accept it, or indeed any coins or notes, as payment at the till. We’ve all seen these insidious signs cropping up in this past year “card payments, only no cash, to keep our staff safe”. It’s all rubbish of course, it’s not to keep staff safe, it’s purely because the company in question doesn’t want to handle cash with its associated security risks and time spent counting and banking, etc., but nonetheless such a stance is perfectly legal. No shop has to take coin of the realm if they don’t want to. They can take whatever they like in payment, jelly babies if they choose, but whether they’d survive long in business is another matter (and actually I’d respect companies if they were honest about their reason not to take cash, if the sign said “it makes it easier for us if you pay by card” I’d be happy, instead they hide behind Covid and the “keeping everyone safe” line when it does no such thing, and so I refuse to shop in such establishments out of principle, even if I intend to pay by card, or jelly babies!). Usually, if a shop doesn’t want you using coins or notes, then one of those ludicrous signs will inform customers of the shop’s attitude to cash before they try to complete the transaction, so anyone claiming the right to pay with coins wouldn’t have much legal recourse; but one assumes no such sign was in place in Exeter Tesco filling station and thus the problem was purely down to the type of coin used, not that it was “cash” per se. I’m guessing the cashier at Tesco refused the coin purely because he or she was unfamiliar with it and didn’t want to get into trouble and have to put up the £60 for the petrol out of their own wages. You can’t really blame them, but it does make you wonder whether there shouldn’t be more information about “commemorative” legal tender British coins put out to retailers, or just more information about what legal tender really is. One interesting thing I learned recently about the term is that when legal tender is offered as payment in court no change has to be given; so in this particular case the gentleman buying the petrol could well have been out of pocket. If his argument was based on the fact the coin was “legal tender” and the cashier had known about the nuances of the term, then they could have refused him change! That’s something to be wary of if you ever decide to start spending your collection of commemoratives on petrol. By the way, in case you’re wondering, yes we will take £100 commemorative coins as payment for your subscription or your COIN YEARBOOK—don’t expect any change though! Oh, and please don’t offer jelly babies, Carol will only say yes and we have bills to pay . . . !
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