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Fermanagh and Omagh District councillors have accused the Department for Work and Pensions of ‘bullying’ vulnerable members of the community into replacing their Post Office accounts with bank accounts.
Discussing the issues surrounding Post Office closures in the area during their latest Council meeting, the local representatives say the government letters are another “attack on rural Post Offices”.
Ulster Unionist, Alex Baird, opened the discussion acknowledging that since Monea Post Office had closed, Churchill’s was now also gone - only adding “insult to injury” and “without any notification to anyone”.
Sinn Fein councillor, Debbie Coyle said she had been contacted by a number of constituents raising concerns about letters they had received about their pensions.
“The letter was very forceful that they had to go and open a bank account and that there was no alternative.
“It was an attack on rural post offices again,” she said, adding that she had started to enquire as to why these letters had been sent out.
“So many pensioners have contacted me to say that they are going to be forced to open a bank account,” she said. “They like that they can go and have interaction with staff at their Post Office. They know their limits and how much to take out.
“I would like a letter to be sent to the Department of Work and Pensions querying why these forceful letters were sent.”
Her party colleague John Feely said he too, had been inundated by concerned constituents in relation to “bullying letters”.
“The letters never explicitly state that they have to leave a Post Office and go to a bank or a building society but the wording means people might think they have to do this.”
He asked that the Council correspondence make it clear they did not want any more of these letters to be sent to people in Fermanagh.
“It is ridiculous that people are being bullied into closing Post Office accounts and it is ridiculous that the government is trying to force the closures of Post Offices.”
Ms. Coyle said she had spoken to one man in particular who she said was “not a well man”.
“He received six letters,” she told councillors.
“Whilst the letter can be seen as threatening to somebody who is vulnerable, they don’t actually have to do it [close their Post Office account].
“Most of the people who came to me about it have been vulnerable people. The man who got six letters in a very short space of time was very upset about it. I told him to ignore them.”
Sinn Fein man, Brian McCaffrey queried whether any rural proofing had been conducted before any of the letters were sent.
“Can we ascertain how exactly that was done?” he asked, “This is again an attack on rural communities.”