Frequently Asked Questions about LETSystems

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Section 1 - Principles and Philosophy.

What is a LETSystem?

A LETSystem is a trading network supported by its own internal currency. It is self-regulating and allows its users to manage and issue their own 'money supply' within the boundaries of the network.

The key points include:

  • co-operation: no-one owns the network.
  • self-regulation: the network is controlled by its users.
  • empowerment: all network users may 'issue' the 'internal currency'.
  • money: money, as a means of exchange, is an integral feature.
LETSystem recording services keep track of transactions and issue statements of LETSystem trading.

Is a LETSystem a type of barter system?

LETSystems use their own type of 'money' - they are money systems.

Barter is a type of exchange where we swap goods and services without using money - I give you a loaf of bread and you give me two cabbages. You fix my car and I'll cook you dinner. But you may not like my cooking.............

Money overcomes the limitations of barter. I give you money for your goods and services and you can spend it elsewhere. In a LETSystem you can use your account to buy what you want from one person and then sell what you can to another.

What does LETS stand for?

The word "LETS" was chosen to highlight an invitation (let's) and a culture of consent. LETS embodies the 'Law of Two Feet' - "If you like it, you walk in. If you don't, then you walk away".

Eric Frank Russell, the story writer, expressed this as "Freedom I will, Freedom I won't" - everybody has choices. (Ref. 1)

LETS supports trading which results in win-win outcomes. This is to be contrasted to the more coercive types of behaviour often seen in communities which are short of money - "I've got the money, so you have to work for me." In LETS, there is never any obligation to trade.

The use of LETS as an acronym was an afterthought. The most common rendering is 'Local Exchange Trading System'. However, we prefer to avoid the use of the word 'local', as it suggests a geographical emphasis, which can be misleading.

What is the basis of LETS?

LETS is based on the value of the individual within the community. This involves both freedoms and responsibilities. We can outline the main criteria:
  • consent, nothing happens without it.
  • no interest to be charged on account balances.
  • common ownership, resulting in cost-of-service provision of support services.
  • disclosure of information - to ensure the informed action of users.

How does the LETSystem differ from other types of LETS?

In addition to the four criteria listed above, the LETSystem adds a fifth:
  • Trades are valued in units equivalent in measure to the national currency.
This a particular arrangement which makes the system more practical, while keeping to the basic philosophy.

Other forms of LETS may assign other measures to their trading units, such as a standard hour of work. These systems can all be catered for within the standard LETSystem support framework.

(See: "What are the particular features of LETSystem trading units?")

LETS - is it a system or a scheme?

A scheme is basically a plan, or a procedure for doing something. A plan tries to draw up every part, or show every step, in advance.

A system, on the other hand, can respond to changes in its environment. Once established, it can be naturally self-regulating throughout its life. This is why we use the word 'system' - 'a complex whole, a set of connected parts'.

LETS is not a scheme, it is a coherent system. LETSystems have a sound underlying ethos, they are self regulating and they conform to all legal requirements. We do not use it the word 'scheme' ourselves, and we are unsure how has crept into use.

The Pocket Oxford Dictionary also defines 'scheme' as 'an artful or underhand design'. (This is not something we wish to be associated with).

What are the particular features of LETSystem trading units?

The LETSystem unit of account is denominated in pounds sterling (in the UK). This means that transactions are straightforward, particularly if there are formal accounting requirements, as is the case with a business.

Although account-holders use the same measure as the legal tender, LETSystem money differs from conventional money.

LETSystem units can only be spent in the system on which they are issued.

The units themselves are information about an individual's position within a trading community. They represent promises made by those who issue them. But those promises cannot be 'called in' as if they were a debt. They are not 'redeemable'. They are not material property. It follows that they have no intrinsic value until they are spent.

What is a LETSystem Registry?

A LETSystem Registry is where you register when you want to start LETS trading. The Registry then co-ordinates the recording of your transactions and the sending out of your statements.

LETSystems and other similar networks can also be registered, enabling one Registry to support several different systems. This makes systems easy to set up. As soon as a system is registered, individuals can open their accounts in it and trading can begin.

LETSystem Registries are community-based, not-for-profit enterprises. They are responsible directly to the individual account-holders registered with them.

What do LETSystem Stewards do?

Each LETSystem has stewards who are responsible for the integrity of the LETSystem. They are accountable to the account-holders and their powers are strictly limited, as defined in the LETSystem agreements:
  • they can instruct Registries to decline to record transactions considered inappropriate.
  • they can liaise with Registries, in particular regarding their charges.
  • they can act as whistle blowers, drawing the attention of the trading community towards actions which endanger the integrity of the LETSystem.
Although Stewards are authorised to act on behalf of the LETSystem trading community in carrying out these duties, they remain personally accountable and personally liable for their actions and decisions. Stewards also risk the loss of the system unless they act with the general consent of the other account-holders.

Stewards may be the initiators of a system, or else provision for their appointment can be made at start-up.

Section 2 - Using your account.

Do I have to earn before I can spend?

No, that's not necessary.

All accounts begin at zero. For one account to move up, another account must move down.

So at any one time approximately half of us will have positive balances and the other half will be negative. Negative balances are an essential feature of the system, so they are not to be viewed as bad and wrong (i.e. debts). Negative balances simply mean you have received more goods and services than you have given out.

So, if you wish, you can buy something with your first trade. As long as your initial commitments are modest, this is perfectly acceptable.

If you wait to earn before you spend, you could find it slower to start trading. If everybody had to wait to earn before they could spend, nobody would get started!

How do people get hold of trading units to start with?

You use your account to earn and spend. For example: I pay you to paint my front door - 5 pounds for the paint and 30 pounds for your time. I give you a 5 pound note. We agree that I pay you the remaining 30 pounds on our neighbourhood LETSystem. Your account rises by 30 and mine goes down by 30.

You can now spend your 30 (or more, if you wish) with anyone else on the same system.

Every time an account moves up, another account must move down by the same amount.

What is a 'commitment'?

A commitment is simply a negative account balance. A commitment represents a willingness to consider supplying goods or services to one or more account-holders at some future date.

When you have a balance in commitment and someone pays into your account, your commitment is reduced, or turned into credit.

In a healthy system, account balances bob up and down, sometimes having a balance in credit and sometimes in commitment.

People in commitment can be considered to have issued LETSystem money to those in credit. There is no central body issuing credit, there is no need.

This means that there is never a shortage, and never a surplus, of LETSystem money.

Can I split my charges and ask for part LETS units and part cash?

Of course, whatever makes sense for you. You may have cash costs to meet as part of the trade and you will usually want to recover those.

If the trade is part of your normal business or profession, you may have a tax liability and you will need cash for that.

The LETSystem recording service will only keep track of the LETS part of your trade.

Why use a LETSystem when you have cash and credit?

For most of us, cash is hard-won and even harder to hold onto. It is in limited supply. But the internal currency of a LETSystem is never in short supply, since the LETSystem money is issued as and when it is required.

The money issued within a LETSystem can only be spent within that system. It therefore stays within the trading community, going round and round, supporting further trading as it goes.

LETSystems accounts are very cost-effective and more affordable than a bank or credit card account. No interest is charged on, or is payable to, accounts. This reduces costs and encourages people to keep spending, since there is no benefit in 'hoarding' positive balances.

Because LETSystem units cannot be spent outside the LETSystem, they do not have the same spending power as cash, But they are supplementary to cash, not alternative to it. As a result, those people who use LETSystems can reduce their cash outgoings, and make their cash go further.

How do people value goods and services within a LETSystem?

Using the pound sterling as a convenient measure, prices in the sterling economy provide a starting point. But valuations in a 'local' economy tend to differ from those outside. Activities which are traditionally low-paid tend to be rewarded more generously. On the other hand, activities which are conventionally more highly-paid tend to trade at a lower prices.

This is a function of the way the LETSystem operates. The differences result from using a 'money' which is not in short supply and which is only acceptable to other users of the system. No intervention is required for this to take place, except education - and even that can be self-education.

Money does not value people, people value each other. But, when money is scarce, valuations become distorted . For example, I want to give you as little money as possible, for as much as I can get from you.

By using a 'money' that is not scarce, people are able to value each other more appropriately.

I value myself, but don't I have to be realistic about market rates?

When you use a LETSystem, you are participating in an internal market which is subtly different from the national or regional markets which use conventional money.

Everyone is still keen to get as much cash as possible. But the ability to earn LETSystem money is enhanced and there is pressure to spend it rather than hoard it.

These factors can combine to give a much lower spread between low price and high price services. People who overcharge find that they can't spend fast enough, people who undercharge find less resistance when they put their prices up.

What happens if someone goes away leaving a negative balance?

Nothing, provided that the rest of us carry on trading with each other. Absconders can't take the LETSystem money with them, because it always stays in the system.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions and it reflects a justifiable concern about cheating within a co-operative activity.

If someone leaves like this, they are basically a dead loss. They have taken more goods and services from the trading community than they have given. But they have turned their backs on a useful support system and will have difficulty if they want to return.

People can, and do, play these games, but it's a bit like cutting your nose off because you want to cheat your face.

Once account holders know that the risk is there, but it is not catastrophic, they play their part in looking out for cynical behaviour and act to nip it in the bud before it becomes a big problem. This is one reason why we agree to our balance and turnover details being available to all the other people who hold an account in that system (disclosure). Then you can say that you'd like to trade with a particular person, but you'd prefer to wait until they have put their account into better shape.

Are there credit limits for LETSystem account holders?

There are no formal credit limits. We make it clear to account holders that we all share in responsibility for the integrity and stability of our trading system.

Jan Carlzon said that an individual without information cannot take responsibility, but an individual who is given information cannot help but take responsibility. (Ref. 2) All account-holders agree that their account balance and turnover (total trading to date) can be furnished to any other account-holder. We encourage account holders to take up references when considering a trade. If you are at all unsure that another is "credit worthy", then you are encouraged to decline to trade or ask for payment by some other means (and that includes cash).

There is a further difficulty with credit limits - it is difficult to make allowance for individual circumstances. If someone has not yet provided something through the LETSystem and they are several hundred pounds in commitment, there may be cause for concern. But someone who is several thousand in commitment, yet has traded twenty thousand overall, is a much lower risk. This is because they have demonstrated their good faith to the trading community.

In smaller systems (up to 500 accounts or so) it is surprising how word gets around concerning large negative balances and, just as important, about large positive ones. Personal behaviour and circumstances are usually taken into account when deciding whether or not to trade with the relevant people. With larger systems, the stewards act as a backstop in bringing unusual or unethical behaviour to light. As a final sanction, with the interests of other account-holders in mind, the stewards can suspend an account. But only in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort.

Are LETSystem units transferable?

LETSystem money can only circulate within the system. It cannot be taken out.

No one can force anyone else to transfer or exchange LETSystem money. (In technical language, the units are not redeemable).

However, individuals are free to transfer LETSystem money from their account in exchange for cash from another account-holder. And if they have an account in another LETSystem, they can transfer units between systems with the assistance of another account-holder. But the integrity of each system is still maintained. (In technical terms, all transactions must be recorded as double-entry).

How are the account-handling charges set?

Account charges are set by the Registry. The charges must reflect the cost of providing transaction recording and sending out statements. Technically, it is possible to adjust the charges at each statement mail-out to ensure that costs are covered yet surpluses do not build up. External auditing may be carried out by:
  • the Inland Revenue (who may want to check that no profits are made).
  • LETSystem Stewards who are empowered by the agreements to liaise with Registries and agree levels of charging.

What about other administration charges?

All other charges are agreed between the account-holders who provide the services and those that benefit from them. This includes services such as lists of offers and wants, trading events, quality assurance and so on.

At start-up, particularly if cash is an issue, some of these activities can benefit from external support from a LETSystem development group or a suitable sponsor.

None of these services need be compulsory and it is important that account-holders are charged only for the services that they individually use.

Can I belong to more than one LETSystem?

As many as you like. One or many, just as it suits you. And your Registry recording service should be able to supply you with details of your trading on those systems that you choose, all listed on a single statement.

Section 3 - Who can benefit?

What are the benefits to individuals?

Individuals can benefit through greater access to goods and services; through more affordable training and education; additional employment; starting a business - there are many possibilities. In addition there are more intangible benefits which also improve the quality of life, such as the widening of social networks.

How can businesses benefit from LETSystems?

A business would use a LETSystem for a number of reasons and in a number of ways:
  • to attract customers - by accepting part cash and part LETS money, the goods and services are more affordable and the fact that the customer may be short of cash is less of an obstacle.
  • to increase cash income - although the cash portion of the sale is now lower than the full price, total sales go up and cash income is the same or higher than before. In addition, local money has been earned which can be spent or, if desired, given to charity.
  • to encourage customer loyalty - customers with LETS accounts like the deal and they come back again.
  • to ease cash flow - if suppliers of goods and services (book-keeping or advertising, for example) accept part payment in LETSystem money, then the harder-to-earn cash is available to help with other bills.
  • to gain a higher profile within the community - making donations to local projects in LETSystem money is a more affordable way of gaining good PR within the local community. Because the LETSystem money cannot leave the system, it tends to come back, even when it is given away.

How can voluntary groups use LETSystems?

Because LETSystem money is easier to earn, it's also easier to give away. Voluntary associations which accept donations in local (LETSystem) money can use it to reward volunteers and to pay for essential services without using up their cash budget.

Donations to charities in local money can be offset against tax in the usual way. This provides further opportunities for fund-raising.

Voluntary associations may also use LETS directories to obtain more services and to gain a higher public profile.

Can anyone use a LETSystem?


LETSystems provide a framework for people to value activities which are not normally valued in the conventional economy. Many people who have difficulty gaining paid employment can nevertheless participate in a LETSystem.

Those who are so seriously incapacitated that they are unable to offer anything can benefit from gifts made through the LETSystem. For those of us who are active, it is a lot easier to give LETSystem money than it is to donate hard cash.

Benefit claimants should obtain specific advice from their nearest LETSystem development group before trading. This is to ensure that they do not jeopardise their entitlement to benefit.

Do LETSystems work better for people who have an adequate amount of money, or for people who have little money?

Our standard answer is:
LETSystems work for everyone who uses money and could use some more.
The state of a person's bank balance is not as relevant as the ability to trade. Does (s)he have time available? Is (s)he willing to devote skills and energy to trade with others?

Of course, there are often costs that cannot be met on the system and will have to be paid for with cash in the normal way. Replacement parts for repairs, for example. Even then, you should find it possible to make your cash go further.

What about people with very few resources?

LETSystems cannot easily address economic problems caused by a total shortage of cash. We have now reached the position where virtually the whole economy of the UK has become monetised. The Welfare State is the last resort of many people before the onset of total destitution and disempowerment.

In the longer term, LETSystems will help to build community economies in which everyone will be able to buy and sell goods and services. This will lead to less dependency on state benefits.

Until then, any reductions in state benefits for people who use LETSystems would be damaging and counter-productive. For those who claim benefit, the fear of losing that money is a key factor when considering whether or not to trade on a LETSystem.

(See also: "How does the DSS view earnings within a LETSystem?")

Are there any examples of LETSystems having helped those with very little money?

Colin Williams, of the Centre for Urban Development and Environmental Management, believes that there are. In his article in Town and Country Planning (vol 64, no 8) he says that:
"Although the unemployed offer a narrower range of goods and services than the employed, they are more successful at selling them."
He believes that the volume of their LETSystem trading as a percentage of their annual income may not seem significant, but:
"its use-value should not be under-estimated..........the work accomplished is seen by the respondents as significantly improving their living standards."

Do LETSystems work better in rural or in urban settings?

We have examples of LETS working both in rural and in urban environments. The rural-ness and the urban-ness is not a key factor for the success of a system.

(See also: "Who are LETSystems for?")

Who are LETSystems for?

LETSystems are for anyone who wants to use them.

Many people are ready to express an opinion on this topic, but they often have underlying assumptions that LETS only works with middle class/the green lobby/businesses/ minorities/poor people/rich people/whatever. The reasoning is that the people who are using LETSystems are not like us, so we can't, or won't want to, use them.

With the increasing diversity of applications, this exclusive attitude is being transformed into a more inclusive one.

We refrain from identifying ourselves completely with poverty issues, or rural issues, or community issues etc, because LETS can be used to address all these. Development in one area can support development in other areas. There is no conflict of interest, no need for insularity.

The act of forming mutually beneficial trading relationships is not a function of geography, race or class. LETSystems work best where people want to participate. What matters is the enthusiasm and abilities of the individual participants, together with the accessibility and transparency of the systems.

Section 4 - Legal Issues

This section reflects the current situation in the UK. It is not intended to replace advice which may be obtained from your legal advisor or the appropriate government department.

What is the official status of a LETSystem?

The LETSystem is simply a network of people who agree to trade in a particular way. Using an account on a LETSystem can be compared to using a fax machine. Just as the fax gives you another way to communicate, so your LETSystem account gives you another way to trade.

The LETSystem itself has the same official status as an informal game of football in the park.

Problems only arise if someone tries to act "on behalf of the LETSystem". At which point they soon find themselves up a legal gumtree. Account-holders can be represented, just as a group of players in the park can be. But a system cannot be represented - how do you represent a game of football?

(See also: "What is the legal status of the LETSystem Registry?")

What are the legal implications of trading on a LETSystem?

The same laws apply, whether or not you are trading on a LETSystem. You are responsible for your actions and your behaviour.

All account-holders agree to adhere to a simple set of legally-binding agreements. The agreements also apply to those who provide services which are essential to the operation of the system itself, such as transaction recording. Providers of essential services enter into additional agreements with the other account-holders In common with other account holders, they have to take into account their particular legal status when trading.

It is the agreements which legally define the relationships within the LETSystem. These agreements can be subject to contract law.

What about income tax?

LETS earnings associated with your normal trade or profession need to be included in your accounts for your tax return. You can ignore all small social-type trades when making up your tax return. If your LETS earnings for a specific type of trade are large, say over 500 pound equivalent per annum, it's not your normal line of work, and you are unsure whether to declare, you need to check with the Revenue whether you have a new trade or profession.

Include in your tax return all possible business-related expenses paid for in local units. Remember that you only pay tax on your profits.

Assign sterling values yourself, or the Revenue have the right to value transactions using current market rates.

If you do this, then you don't need to submit separate details of your LETS trading, just include all the sterling equivalent items in your accounts, then report the net totals for both sterling and LETS combined. Keep your LETS statements in case the Revenue decide to audit, it's just like having another bank account.

If you are in any doubt, check with your Inland Revenue office. We have found the Revenue very helpful as long as you are honest with them.

What is the legal status of the LETSystem Registry?

A LETSystem Registry, as a service to the community, can choose any structure that supports not-for-profit trading. The structure adopted will depend largely on the size of the Registry. Smaller Registries may exist as sole traders or partnerships. Larger Registries are probably best run as co-ops or a companies limited by guarantee.

How does the DSS view earnings within a LETSystem?


On the one hand, LETSystem money is not legal tender. On the other hand, people can gain real benefits from their LETSystem transactions.

The safest advice is for claimants to keep their LETSystem trading within any weekly disregard.

Our position, which has not been officially accepted, is that claimants should accept reduction of benefit only when they use their LETSystem account to obtain the basics of life such as food, rent etc.

Further, trading on non-monetised systems (e.g. hour based LETS) should not result in loss of benefit. In Australia, this has already been achieved through a government ruling.

More details, in the form of position papers and reports, are available from your nearest LETSgo office or through the LETS-CONNECT network.

What are the implications for VAT traders?

Like all taxes, VAT must be paid in legal tender - Pounds Sterling in the UK. VAT is payable on the ex-VAT asking price, which includes the amount of LETS money paid.

If you are VAT registered and you are selling an item for 100 pounds before VAT, you could charge 25 LETSystem pounds and 75 pounds sterling. Then you add on 17.50 in Sterling for the VAT.

Does a LETSystem provide quality assurance?

Whilst LETSystem account-holders may provide quality assurance on their own work, no-one can provide such assurance on behalf of a system. This is because LETSystems do not exist as legal entities. They are merely information systems which facilitate trading. They can only be defined by the relationships between those who use them.

Of course, anyone with a LETSystem account can offer quality assurance or other brokerage services to the trading community. But they take on the responsibilities for providing this service on their own account and never on behalf of 'the LETSystem'. And this service remains an option which individual account holders can choose to use or not, as the case may be.

It is unrealistic to expect any third party to be answerable for all the trading within a system. It is also disempowering for the individual buyers. Education and information are better routes to fair trading.

Buyers should seek assurance that the providers of goods and services are suitably competent, qualified and insured as necessary.

"Let the buyer beware."

(See also: "Does the Registry or the Directory Service give Quality Assurance?")

Does the Registry or the Directory Service give Quality Assurance?

Both the Registry and the Directory Service should offer a quality service, but they are only responsible for their own work. They do not provide quality assurance regarding the work of other account-holders. After all, banks will not guarantee the value of something you buy with a cheque. The Yellow Pages will not accept responsibility for traders who advertise with them.

It's not their business how you spend your money. They don't guarantee that the bread is fresh or that the car won't break down. That's your job.

Section 5 - Who's who in LETSystem development.

Many individuals are active across the world. This list does not claim to be extensive, it merely reflects the most frequently asked questions within the British Isles. We can publish details of other contact groups if they are sent to us with a short commentary. Organisations are listed with the youngest first.

What is LETS-Connect?

LETS-Connect is an information and support network for LETSystems which includes both individuals and development organisations such as the LETSgo projects.

What is econ-lets?

Econ-lets is a discussion group that takes place using e-mail. It is intended to promote the discussion of the economic, social and telematics issues surrounding the development of LETS.

What's a 'LETSgo'?

A LETSgo project is a kick-start for LETSystem development in a particular region.

The aim of the LETSgo is to initiate prototypes and establish a LETSystem Regional Development Initiative (LDI). The LDI is a consortium of different parties who work together to achieve common aims in establishing a diverse but coherent network of LETSystems and LETSystem Registries across the region.

A LETSgo project is therefore part of the LDI activities.

What is LETSolutions?

LETSolutions is a not-for-profit consultancy group which provides information, presentations and advice concerning LETSystems.

What is LETSLINK Scotland?

LETSLINK Scotland is an information and support group for LETS in Scotland.


LETSLINK UK is an information and support service for LETS.

What is Landsman Community Services Ltd?

Landsman is a Canadian company which propagates LETSystem development on a global basis. It is the source of design work concerning the LETSystem and related organisational structures, as published in the LETSystem Design Manual.

Who is Michael Linton?

Michael Linton is the designer of the LETSystem. He emigrated from Britain to the west coast of Canada in the 1970's. In 1983 the first LETSystem in the world was implemented in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island.

Michael established Landsman Community Services Ltd in the early 1980's, so making all the organisations listed here possible.

Section 6 - Development issues.

Does a LETSgo need a support worker?

A LETSgo project requires a whole variety of participants. In keeping with the basic ethics of LETSystems, it is an open and participative joint venture. Anyone who agrees with the aims and methods of the project should be able to join in. Records are kept to acknowledge efforts and share any remuneration in an equitable manner. Support can therefore come from the whole community - private sector, public sector and third sector.

A Local Authority support worker is not necessary for the implementation of the project. If such a support worker is working to a pre-arranged brief as part of the consortium team, and properly trained and qualified to carry out the brief, then funding a worker is one way in which the Local Authority can contribute.

But there are other ways that Local Authorities can provide support. We recommend that the direct appointee option be considered only when the Local Authority is committing a substantial spend to the project, and therefore needs a representative to ensure good financial control of the activities to which funds are to be applied. This should be negotiated by all parties in advance.

What software is available to run a LETSystem?

Two commonly used packages are available. They run on industry standard PCs.
  • the nLETS package is used for producing listings in a simple noticeboard or directory format. The layout can be further enhanced by exporting the data to Desk Top Publishing packages. nLETS is used by directory services. nLETS has been developed to an advanced stage.
  • mLETS software supports registration and transaction recording, including the sending out of statements etc. mLETS is used by Registries and their accounting services. mLETS is robust and well-tested.
Note that several LETSystems can be supported by one directory provider and one Registry. There is no need for additional software.

regLETS is a package which is the upgraded version of mLETS. Currently in beta-testing phase, we recommend that users have experience of mLETS and access to e-mail so that they can participate in the development process. Unlike mLETS, a 386 or 486 machine is required. regLETS provides a noticeboard modules as well as accounting software. It also has a module for recording trades. All modules are stand-alone and fully compatible with mLETS.

Whatever software is used, please note our recommendations that that the functions of accounting and listings be administered (and costed and charged) separately.

What advantages does the software offer over standard spreadsheet packages?

  • ready for use - the programs are designed specifically for the job in hand, with documentation available, so there is no time-consuming set up to do.
  • already checked - the applications have been rigorously tested to eliminate defects and unpredictable results.
  • safety of entry - transaction entries are saved to disk as they are entered, so if a problem occurs the data does not have to be re-entered.
  • no cost/low cost - the packages are available at cost of distribution.
  • low running costs - they work on older machines so you don't need state-of-the-art (expensive) equipment.
  • supported - verified software comes with technical and operational support from LETSgo offices and through LETS-Connect.

Section 7 - Looking into the future.

Are LETSystems sustainable?

The LETSystem design has proved to be extraordinarily robust. Their sustainability is underpinned by the simplicity of the design and by the ethic of cost-of-service.

Cost-of-service ensures that account recording costs are all met and that everyone is fairly rewarded for the work of recording transactions. A sustainable system cannot rely on volunteers, because this invites problems associated with "burn-out". The payment of a 'going rate' for work on essential services is included in the cost-of-service ethic.

Operational services can be paid for entirely in LETSystem currency. Account-holders meet costs on a 'pay as you use' basis. The charges can be kept low, as long as they consist of strictly operational costs. There is no place for charging promotion or other development costs directly to account-holders. This is not only unfair, it also threatens the sustainability of the system.

Initially, consumables such as paper and postage often have to be paid for in cash. In the absence of external support, account-holders will have to meet these cash costs.

The only serious threat to a LETSystem is loss of confidence by the participants - a threat common to all money systems. But it is worth reflecting that the cessation of a LETSystem is far less traumatic than, say, the collapse of a bank or the failure of an investment fund.

The main contributing factors to confidence in a LETSystem are:

  • balance of offers and requests - can I spend what I earn?
  • the efficiency and accuracy of the account recording process.
If trading in a LETSystem was to stop, those who have supplied more than they have bought will 'lose' their positive balances. No-one will be able to seek redress from those with negative balances. On the other hand, there is always the possibility that LETSystem accounts could be re-activated at some time in the future. Also the trading records in dormant/defunct systems are still there to be referred to by the former users.

What is the link between money and the environment?

The advent of Agenda 21 has outlined the need for action at a local level to improve the environment. If you stop to think about it, concerted action is discouraged by the present economic system. We'd like to do something, but we don't have the money.

Money is scarce and we will try to spend as little as possible to get as much as possible. We are therefore attracted to imported goods produced at third-world pay rates using cheap raw materials. These materials are cheaper if they are produced by unsustainable methods. Meanwhile our local economic activity is declining and unemployment is increasing. Our manufacturing shrinks, the tax base contracts, social costs increase and there is even less money to spend on improving the environment.

Rupert Sheldrake, the physicist, points out that the people who delight in recreation in the natural world during the weekend are busy destroying that same world during the week. (Ref. 3) This is not because they want to be destructive, but because they don't know how to avoid doing so.

For many people, the only 'green' issue is whether the giro or other funds arrive on time. Only when we are sure that we can buy what we need, when we need it, will we turn our attention to all the other pressing matters which require our time, resources and ingenuity.

LETSystems have the potential to breathe life into the local economy. Using LETSystems, traders are already turning their attention towards recycling, sustainable food production and energy efficiency. But more than that, the ability to 'shop local' and get good value for money is a move in the direction of a more sustainable way of life.

Can LETS support local food production?

Yes - as long as we have consent.

Local food production is a business and, like in any business, cash has to be found at all stages. The grower needs to pay for labour on the land, the book-keeper (even if when it's her husband!), the seedsman, the distributor, the packing and so on. And we won't mention advertising.

All of these people and all of the services may be found in one small area. If these people are prepared to accept local units (LETSystem money) for their time and effort, they will have created a local business which is sustainable, probably ethical and well and truly supported by LETS.

The outcome is that local people are able to buy local food for part local money, in addition to each other's "regular" services, on a daily basis.

In our promotion of LETS, we are now looking more towards people who understand LETSystems and will set up their businesses to use LETSystems from the outset, as a normal part of business life. This is opposed to the "LETS activist" approach where you try to convince existing business people of the benefits. So we "walk our talk" as far as food production, or any other business activity, is concerned.

(From John and Mandy Winkworth)

Can LETSystems be used in conjunction with self-build projects?

There are several projects under consideration at present. The Homes for Change project in Manchester, at present approaching construction, has proposed that the housing co-op accept 10 per cent of rents in Manchester LETS currency. This is contingent on the ability of the co-op to spend their local money on support services, such as office work and maintenance. As for the future, John Winkworth writes:
As a self-builder, in every sense of the nail, I have to say that LETS is the most exciting tool in the bag so far. The biggest drawback for me, after all the excitement, the sheer hard work and endless fun, is having to pay in the conventional way for the house that we built with our own hands.

I mean, of course, by way of the 'mort-gage' over a long, long time.

Her Majesty's Inspector of Taxes tells us that local money is just as real as the pound sterling. This means that a group of self-builders looking for funding should be able to pledge their time to match funds in a wide variety of situations.

  1. Eric Frank Russell - And Then There Were None (Short story, Hugo Award series)
  2. Jan Carlzon - Moments of Truth
  3. Rupert Sheldrake - The Rebirth of Nature (Random Century Ltd)

Produced by LETSgo Manchester, 23 New Mount Street, Manchester M4 4DE, with contributions from Landsman Community Services Ltd, Nigel Leach of LETS Solutions, John and Mandy Winkworth of LETS-Connect. Special thanks to Nigel Stewart of XTML for electronic publishing.

Copyright held by Robert Soutar Ltd 1996 on behalf of the LETSystem common-wealth.

Permission to copy this document is granted on the following conditions which apply whether the copies are of the whole document or of any part:

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Last Revised : 21 April 1996 by Nigel Stewart