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50 years and 78 billion payments – Direct Debit hits half a century

It may not be an entry in too many people’s diaries, but this year represents a golden milestone for Direct Debit, as one of the most familiar payment methods in the UK turns 50.

A trusted brand, which has become synonymous with ensuring bills are paid reliably and without fuss, it is perhaps apt that the milestone is marked in a typically understated way, reflecting Direct Debit’s role in quietly moving £1.3 trillion behind the scenes, each year.

With Direct Debit part and parcel of everyday life, it’s easy to forget that when it was launched in 1970 – a year that saw the first music festival held at Glastonbury - it represented a quiet revolution of its own. Put simply, the world of bill payments was changing.

Today, Direct Debit - which is owned and run by UK retail payments authority, Pay.UK, along with Faster Payments and cheques - is relied on by thousands of service users to reliably collect funds, and has a half-century of continued year-on-year growth.

Part of that, inevitably, is down to the many more bills we pay today. In the 1970s, regular payments were limited to mortgage or rent, and electricity or gas. Nowadays, we have mobile phone bills, broadband bundles, gaming subscriptions, in-app payments, and half a dozen different types of insurance; we spread the cost of major purchases from holidays to cars, and more mundane ones such as our TV licence or Vehicle Excise Duty, and settle dual fuel, water, and council bills without ever having to leave the house.

Direct Debit numbers through the years

1970 – 30 million
1980 – 171 million
1990 – 836 million
2000 – 2 million
2010 – 3.2 million
2019 – 4.49 million
50 years of Direct Debit = more that 78.5 billion payments processed

 

And that, in 2020, has become more important than ever, as acknowledged by

Maha El Dimachki, Pay.UK’s Chief Payments Officer, who said:
“We need payments to work without fuss so we can get on with the important things in our lives. During this unusual, difficult year, Direct Debit has continued to run quietly, securely, and reliably in the background, as it has in the past 50 years, collecting payments for billers and giving customers peace of mind that the services they need and want are being paid for with the minimum of effort on their part."
“And we are determined that will remain the case for as long as end users need and value it. Our team continues to work hard to ensure the service operates smoothly and efficiently, this year and in the years to come.”