Anger as power cards axed from POs

POST offices in East Anglia have suffered a "devastating" blow after a power firm pulled the plug on them selling pre-payment electricity cards.Many people in rural areas could also suffer in the wake of Powergen's decision, it was warned last night.

By David Green

POST offices in East Anglia have suffered a "devastating" blow after a power firm pulled the plug on them selling pre-payment electricity cards.

Many people in rural areas could also suffer in the wake of Powergen's decision, it was warned last night.

The company has decided to remove the cards from post offices throughout the eastern region from April 1 and make them available through so-called "convenience stores".

About 1,500 post offices will be affected but, according to Powergen, the service will be transferred to 1,800 convenience stores.

However, in some villages where the post office currently sells the cards there is no convenience store and customers, many of them on low income, could face a journey of several miles in order to "top-up" their cards.

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And some rural post offices say it is another blow in their bid to remain viable.

Powergen said in a statement issued yesterday that the decision would allow customers greater choice, both in terms of the number of locations available to them and the opening hours of the stores.

"We are writing to affected customers from this week and are including a telephone number on which they can contact us if they have any concerns regarding the locations of the convenience stores," it said.

Jag Kahlon , Powergen spokeswoman, said the company had given Post Office Limited the option of continuing to sell the cards at sub post offices in villages where there was no convenience store but had been told it was "all or nothing".

Although the majority of customers would benefit, the company was anxious to help those who would face hardship and it might be possible to set up a system of topping up the cards by mail.

But Jon Richardson, regional secretary of the National Federation of Sub-postmasters, said he had already been contacted by some of his members and customers in his own post office had been registering complaints.

"My phone has been red hot. It is devastating to us at the moment when post offices everywhere are really struggling to remain viable," he said.

Mr Richardson, based in Ipswich, said he believed the move by Powergen was a cost-saving measure because electricity companies were also under pressure to reduce outlay.

However, payment through privately-owned convenience stores was not as safe as doing it through post offices, he claimed.

Mr Richardson said he was trying to find out whether customers could easily switch electricity companies because other power suppliers also used post offices.

He thought it was not unreasonable for the Post Office to require an "all or nothing" approach from Powergen.

"They can't cherry pick," he added.

David Johnson, sub-postmaster at Stradbroke, said the move was a further blow to post offices and would inconvenience people living in rural areas.

"It hits the people least able to afford to travel because those at the poorer end of the economic community often pay for their electricity in this way. People in rented accommodation also like the pre-payment card system," he said.

Another Suffolk sub-postmaster, who asked not to be named, said: "It may be fine in towns but it is going to hit rural areas hard. It is always the poorer people who get hit hardest."

A Post Office Limited spokesman said it was not viable to provide Powergen's service at selected branches.

"We are disappointed to be losing their business but customers will still be able to pay bills and make magnetic swipe card budget payments with certain cards at our branches," he added.

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