Enabling Covid 19 Mutual Aid groups to receive contactless payments

If you’re setting up or involved with a Covid 19 Mutual Aid group, then you’re probably thinking about what’s the best way for people to pay for their shopping.

Of course the less contact the better, so the ideal is a bank transfer, or some other form of completely non-physical payment.  However these can be confusing for someone who isn’t used to them and could be open to abuse.

Cash isn’t ideal, with it’s potential to carry the virus, with cheques having the same problem, although at least they could be left on the doorstep.  

Contactless payments are exactly what they say and require no physical contact – a card can be hovered above a reader. It doesn’t need to be tapped.  They can actually be taken through double glazed windows, so if that’s an option, this could be the best route.

What are the options?

Stand alone contactless units are pretty expensive, and often have to be taken with some kind of service contract.  However small card readers, that pair through bluetooth with your smartphone, are much cheaper.  You download an app to your phone, on which you enter the amount to be paid, and then send that transaction to the card reader.

You may well have seen them being used by small businesses.

The main options in the UK for quick set-up are:




How do you set it up?

Bluetooth card readers are currently only available for organisations with their own bank accounts, not individuals.  If your Covid 19 group is set-up as an offshoot of an existing organisation, such as a Church, Mosque or Community group you’re fine.  If it’s completely new, then are you able to find another group to adopt you, so that can have a bank account to use?

Once you’ve got an organisational bank account the set-up process is usually very straightforward.  It often only takes 10 mins, and they will post you a card reader in a few days.  Sometimes they need to do some further checks before they can pay out the money, but this depends on whether they deem anything about the organisation as risky.

How much does it cost?

Each card reader is usually £20 – £30 each.  There is also a fee on each transaction, usually less than 2%.

With Bluetooth card readers there are not usually monthly fees or other costs. 

How do you take the payment?

Once you’ve dowloaded the app onto your phone, you just enter the amount you’d like to receive and send it to the card reader.  Ideally hold the card reader up to a window, so that the card holder can hold their card on the other side.  It might be useful to have a poster to explain this, in case their double glazing is really good and they can’t hear you!

What if it’s more than £30 of shopping?

£30 is currently the limit for a single contactless transaction, although it’s just been announced that this will be raised to £45 starting in April.  You could always split the total amount into a number of chunks of £30 (£45) or less.  

What if contactless doesn’t work?

It may be that someone’s card isn’t set-up for contactless, or there isn’t a suitable window to use.

You could wipe the card reader with a suitable cleaner, then leave it on the door step and step back a few meters.  You can then send the amount to the card reader and ask the person who’s received the shopping to enter their card and pin as normal.

How do I cover the cost of the transaction fees?

You could offer people the option of paying a bit more 

Will I know who has paid?

You will be able to log-into the portal to see all the transaction amounts and time, but the way that contactless transactions are secured means you won’t see their names, or the full card numbers.  So you’ll need to keep a separate record of who’s paid for their shopping.

How do I get one?

Use the links below to sign up for an account and get a card reader




Chris is commercial director of CollecTin, who supply charities with contactless donation units, that use bluetooth card readers.  

*Full disclosure, if you use these links, for a period we will receive a small proportion of the transaction fee.  This doesn’t affect the price you pay for the card reader or transaction fees.