Fears over new threat to post offices

CAMPAIGNERS have called for the Government to scrap plans to axe Post Office card accounts after fears it could lead to the loss of hundreds of branches across East Anglia.

CAMPAIGNERS have called for the Government to scrap plans to axe Post Office card accounts after fears it could lead to the loss of hundreds of branches across East Anglia.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will stop funding the Post Office card account system - which it created to replace giros and order booklets two years ago - in 2010.

The system is used by more than four million people across the country and allows people to collect benefits pensions and tax credit payments over the counter at a post office using a plastic card and PIN number.

Members of the Federation for Sub-Postmasters, which meets on Monday in Torquay for its annual national conference, have criticised the Government's decision because they fear it will lead to the closure of thousands of post offices that rely on the card account scheme for passing trade.

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The group has now sent out a petition to all 14,500 post offices in the UK, which has attracted tens of thousands of signatures in support of their views and wants Whitehall to review its proposals.

Beryl Keats, eastern regional secretary for the Federation of Sub-Postmasters, said: “Potentially we are all under threat because it will not just affect rural offices but urban ones as well.

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“If the Government has its way and all money is put into banks or building societies by 2010 then post offices will miss out because we will lose the passing trade that is associated with those who come in with account cards.

“It's a very bleak picture. They have already taken away our role to supply TV licenses but this is a step further. It's like telling a baker they can't sell bread or a fishmonger they can't sell fish.”

Since April 2003 pensioners have been given the option of having pensions paid into a bank account or a Post Office card account.

Mrs Keats said: “Not everyone wants a bank account or to pay bills through direct debit. They like to have the money in their hand so they can see what they have and how much they need to pay.

“The Government are targeting vulnerable people at a time in their lives when they shouldn't have these worries. I mean who at the age of 80 or 85 wants the added stress of having to change accounts?

“This latest move is geared towards youngsters. Can you imagine a line of pensioners queuing to get their money from a hole in the wall machine and the security and safety implications that might involve?”

In the past decade more than 3,000 sub post offices have closed, many in rural parts of East Anglia.

James Plaskitt, Department for Work and Pensions minister, said: “There is no reason to believe the 2010 expiry will automatically lead to post office closures.

“Some 25 alternative accounts - all accessible at the post office - are already available. And the Post Office itself will be introducing other new accounts.

“The card account has very limited facilities. For post offices to retain and grow their business in the fast changing world of financial services, they need new attractive products.”

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