By Daniel Hunter

Britons sent two-thirds more money through 'faster payments' in the last three months of 2011 compared to the previous year, according to the Payments Council’s latest quarterly statistical report.

More than £76 billion was sent during 2011’s fourth quarter (up from £46 billion in Q4 2010) and the number of transactions increased by 23% year-on-year. 144 million Faster Payments were made in the last three months of 2011.

The increases marked the run up to 1st January 2012, when European legislation1 came into force which effectively made Faster Payments the default system for processing online, phone banking and standing order payments in the UK.

To prepare for the legislative change significant work was completed during 2011 to increase the reach of the Faster Payments Service - 99.9% of UK sort codes can now send and receive Faster Payments. By December 2011, four out of five standing orders (81%) were sent using the service, compared to 64% a year earlier.

2011 was also a record year for cash machines withdrawals, beating the mark set in 2008. The busiest single second in the LINK network’s 25 year history was recorded at 13:03:57 on Friday 28th October, with 482 transactions made. Overall, we used cash machines 2.87 billion times during the year, taking out £191 billion, and the overwhelming majority of these transactions were free. Fewer than one in 30 (2.67%) ATM withdrawals were at a pay-to-use machine in the last three months of 2011, the lowest percentage for seven years.

One area of payments that showed a steady decline was the number of cheques cleared. On an annual basis, 12% fewer cheques were cleared in 2011 (682 million) than 2010 (776 million). Despite this reduction, an average of 2.7 million cheques were still cleared every day in the last three months of 2011, compared to 3.0 million over the same period in 2010.

The closure of the Cheque Guarantee Card Scheme on June 30th 2011 appeared to have little impact on the rate of decline in cheque clearing, which has remained broadly steady since 2009. Guaranteed cheques only accounted for seven per cent of total cheque volumes in the 12 months leading up to the Scheme’s closure.

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