Post Office Horizon trial

The Post Office (PO) has slammed the Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) decision to axe Post Office Card Accounts (POCA) as harmful to ‘vulnerable’ pension and benefits recipients.

POCA is used by as many as 400,000 people without a bank account to access their pension and benefits entitlements. However, the DWP is set to pull the plug on POCA in November, moving users over to paper vouchers instead despite suggestions from the Post Office to move the customers over to ‘essentials’ accounts with high-street banks instead.

Several Post Office retailers have express concerns over the impact of the change on the welfare of their customers. Asked by RN about these concerns, Post Office chief executive Nick Read called on the Department of Work and Pensions’ to delay or alter its plans.  He said “I like you am extremely nervous that the un-banked are going to fall foul of this process. One of the great things about the POCA scheme is that customers and vulnerable customers can get money paid on their card and can draw out specific amounts, like £6.17 or £23 but with the [Government’s] voucher scheme it’s all or nothing. You get the voucher and you get the money on the voucher so you can’t budget, you can’t use it in a different way and there are a lot of vulnerable individuals that will react to this change and not in a positive way. I think postmasters are quite right to be concerned about what the impact will be, we can’t have 300,000 to 400,000 customers who are going to be exposed at the end of this process.”

Rebuilding the Post Office: interview with chief executive Nick Read

The position was supported by Post Office government affairs and policy director Patrick Bourke who added: “The DWP is hell-bent on moving to a voucher system come what may. We always plan for success but there needs to be more imagination in government to move forward with [moving POCA customers to high-street banks].” He continues: “As Nick says there’s a real challenge [with vouchers]. You can’t budget, you can’t save and if you misplace or misspend it you are on your own and it’s a direction of travel [at DWP] we can’t shift. It’s cost effective for government but is it the right outcome for people? It’s not for me to judge.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “This is disappointing and unhelpful scaremongering from the Post Office. The vast majority of Post Office card account users have access to mainstream banking and we are providing support to people to help them move their payments to a bank account. For the small number of people who can’t use a bank account, an alternative payment service will be available. Post Office card accounts are costly to run and don’t provide value for money to the taxpayer.”