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Stop bullying us into a bank account! Post Office card holders' fury as Government pressures them into changing how pensions are paid

10 Oct 2018, 14:24 ... -fury.html

Post Office card accounts are a simple way to receive pensions and benefits
They have no overdraft facility or charges, making it impossible to get into debt
Since 2015 the Government has written to 900,000 card account customers
It wants to pay into a bank, building society or credit union account instead

Thousands of pensioners are being 'bullied' into closing Post Office card accounts they have held for up to 15 years.

Retirees say they have been sent multiple letters by the Government urging them to open a bank account so their state pension can be paid into that instead.

But these letters fail to mention that customers can refuse to do so, and continue receiving their pension into their Post Office card account as usual.

Experts say it is unacceptable to try to force people into opening a bank account they do not want.

Around one million people use Post Office card accounts, which were launched in 2003 as a simple way for people to receive pensions and benefits. The accounts have no overdraft facility or charges, making it impossible to get into debt, which many pensioners find reassuring.

Yet in 2015, the Government began a mailing campaign, putting pressure on pensioners to open bank accounts for their pension payments instead.

Since then it has written to 900,000 card account customers. The letters read: 'We currently pay your pension into a Post Office card account. We want to pay your money into a bank, building society or credit union account instead.'

It adds that card accounts are intended only for people who are unable to open or use a bank account, and that there are now fewer barriers to prevent people from accessing standard banking. It also says paying pensions into a bank account is more 'cost-effective' for the Government.

Customers are told they will still be able to use a local Post Office to collect their money, as you can access most bank accounts in Post Office branches.

But pensioners are outraged at being informed they should no longer use the trusted card accounts they have relied on for years.

Retired Army bomb disposal officer Peter Townsend, 82, has used the card account to collect his pension since they were set up in 2003.

Retired Army bomb disposal officer Peter Townsend, 82, left and retired nurse Janet Bailey, right, want to continue using their Post Office cards

He says collecting his pension in cash using the card account is the perfect routine for him: 'I walk down to my local branch on a Monday morning, get my pension in cash, a loaf of bread and the newspaper.'

Peter, a widower who lives in Sheffield, says: 'I worry for those people who rely on every penny of their state pension to live and need an account they can rely on.

'They don't want to be at the mercy of banks' IT systems that crash, stopping them from drawing their pension. And having a Post Office in virtually every town means that when you go on holiday, you know you're always near one to draw your pension.'

He adds that the letter makes it sound as though there is no other option but to open a bank account. 'It just asks for details of where you want your pension to be paid, and gives an October deadline,' says Peter.

'I get scam calls all the time, so I'm not going to put any bank account details down on a form and post it off,' he adds.

Janet Bailey, 73, from Middleton, Greater Manchester, received the first of two letters in March. 'It made me angry,' she says. 'It's like they are saying: 'Do this or else.' '

Janet, a retired nurse who has been using her Post Office account for 13 years, ignored the first one.

When the next letter arrived in May, Janet went into her local Post Office branch to ask why she was being pressured into opening a bank account.

'They said I could still use the Post Office to pick up my state pension, but it would be paid into a bank account instead,' she says. But Janet doesn't want to open a bank account.

'A bank once charged me £80 because I went over my credit limit by a few pennies, after being assured a temporary overdraft had been put in place,' she says. 'It took me forever to sort it out.'

Experts are urging anyone who receives the letters to 'shred' them because the Government cannot force pensioners into switching to a bank account.

Martyn James, of complaints website Resolver, says: 'The Department for Work and Pensions is using bullying tactics to get pensioners to give up on their Post Office card accounts, which is misleading and unfair.'

Ros Altmann, former pensions minister and champion for older workers, says: 'There are also issues about the security of this process. It's understandable that people are suspicious of a letter asking them to send off sensitive information in the post.'

She says the Government is obliged by law to pay people's pensions and cannot force them to switch to a bank account.

'Pensioners who want to go on having their money paid into a Post Office card account should simply shred these letters and forget about them, no matter how many they receive,' she adds.

Retired business owner Brigid Shepherd, 74, and her husband Anthony, 79, have received three letters between them.

'I have no intention of opening a bank account,' says Brigid, from Worcestershire. 'The letter doesn't say you have an option. I got the impression you had to do this.'

Baroness Altmann adds: 'The DWP wants to encourage people to use bank accounts because the cost of administering Post Office card accounts is higher.

'But many elderly people simply don't trust banks or don't feel comfortable using them. I don't think it is right to force them to switch to bank or credit union accounts if they feel frightened about doing so.'

A DWP spokesman says: 'We will continue to maintain Post Office card accounts until 2021 [when the Government's contract with the Post Office is reviewed] and will ensure that anyone affected will be able to access their money via a suitable replacement service after this date.'

A spokesman for Post Office says: 'Currently, for those customers who are not able to open a bank account, they can continue to access their cash through their Post Office card account.'

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