For most of my life (or the part of it where I’ve had to understand money) I’ve been under the impression that (here in the UK at least) there was a minimum value of change that someone had to accept as payment (more specifically the amount banks print on their money bags and ask you to separate accordingly), and they were able to request it be given in another form. This was re-enforced by stories about smart arses who tried to pay their council tax entirely in pennies having their payment rejected.
However, this morning when I was buying some stuff and discovered I’d mysteriously ran out of bank notes (the total cost was £9 something, I had a fiver). The shop assistant claimed that the £4.something worth of 50p and 20p coins was more than they had to accept (according the the banks’ moneybags the maximum is £5 in 10, 20 and 50p coins) and I had to spend about 10 minutes looking for a cash machine before I could claim full ownership of my good and return home to interrogate my brother over the disappearance of my wallet’s contents.
So was the shopkeeper being lazy/wrong, or have I been wrong all these years? And while I’m asking, do similar laws exist in other parts of the world?
I don’t think the shopkeeper was obliged to sell the goods for any particular combination of coins. If you’d offered a £5 note and two £2 coins for a £9 item, they could have said, “I don’t like £2 coins,” or something equally stupid, and not be breaking the law. But any normal shopkeeper would be quite happy to take 20 20p coins for a £4 item: it’s all money!
The point, which is addressed in that other thread, is that a store (or anyone else) can set whatever terms they want for what kind of payment they’ll accept. The only exception is if it’s payment for an already-established debt, in which case they have to accept legal tender. But filling your cart at a grocery store doesn’t establish a debt, so the store can set whatever restrictions they like. It seems that your store has decided to set the restriction that they don’t want to deal with a whole bunch of coins. By the same token, you’ll also often see stores refuse to accept very large denominations (like $100 bills, in the US), because it puts them at more risk of robbery.
On the other hand, though, if your electric bill is $400, and you go to the utility’s office with four $100 bills, then you’ve paid your bill and they can’t complain, since $100 bills are legal tender. What precisely counts as legal tender varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and I have no idea what the law is in the UK, but it might be that coins are considered legal tender only up to some limit.
One of the FAQ on the US Treasury website says, in part, “Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills.”
Seems coins are good for all debts. I had a friend once tell me that he had to pay a $50 traffic fine he thought was bogus. So he got 5,000 pennies and went to pay his bill. He had taken two pennies out of the jar (or whatever he carried it all in). The clerk decided to count all of them, by hand. My friend was prepared for this and had brought a book. The clerk eventually finished counting and told him he was $0.02 short. My friend replied, “Huh? I am sure they are all there. Please count again.” I guess the clerk was not amused and sent him on his way.
Above story may be BS…was told over some beers but funny if true.