New threat to post offices

HUNDREDS of post offices across East Anglia face a fresh closure threat after the Government decided to abandon its contract for post office card accounts.

By Danielle Nuttall

HUNDREDS of post offices across East Anglia face a fresh closure threat after the Government decided to abandon its contract for post office card accounts.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will cease 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.

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But the Government's announcement that it will not renew the contract has been met with anger by pensioners' organisations and sub-postmasters, who claim they will lose vital business.

Beryl Keats, eastern regional secretary of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, said: “What are we going to survive on? There are too many other people in the market place for loans. Once they take that away from us, we just won't survive. There's nothing to replace it.

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“When they first came out with the idea of card and PIN there were a lot of people complaining. We said it would safer - people won't be able to steal the books and forge signatures.

“We proved it and the Post Office managed to keep hold of a great number of pensioners. If they were going to remove it why did we have that fuss in the first place?

“It will definitely lead to post office closures. It's just going to be impossible. Some of the people who don't have bank accounts will find it horrendous.”

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

The abolition of giros and booklets was initially met with concern, with critics claiming the Government was in favour of the bank account option.

Jack Thain, chairman of the Suffolk Pensioners' Association, said last night: “We fought this out when they closed the last lot of post offices.

“A lot of people don't have bank accounts. Elderly people use the post office because it's just around the corner. A lot of elderly people cannot move that distance to go to a bank or post office in town. They can't walk those distances any more.

“The Government has to step in and say what they're going to do to help those people who have never had a bank account. Some people don't want know what the inside of a bank looks like, especially those in the sticks.”

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

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley, shadow minister for welfare reform, said: “We are concerned about the effect this move will have on the more vulnerable, for whom claiming benefits is already a highly convoluted process.

“There have undoubtedly been some problems with the post office card account. However, we now need clarification from the Government on what it intends to do to ensure benefit recipients continue to receive a decent service at their Post Office.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The Post Office card account will be funded by Government until 2010. It is one of 25 or so accounts that can be used to access benefit and pension money over the Post Office counter. 75% of our customers already have benefits or pensions paid into a bank account.

“Any change will be phased in. We will be working closely with the Post Office to ensure customers are fully aware of developments and continue to have a range of choices at the Post Office in how they access their money.”

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