Concerns have been raised over the ease at which elderly people will be able to receive their pensions later this year.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has used the Post Office Card Account to pay state pensions and benefits to people since 2003, but its contract with the Post Office will end in November 2021 meaning people have been getting letters advising them of the need to re-direct their payments to a bank account instead.
Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin said banks must be more understanding and open to offering additional assistance for elderly people in opening a bank account to ensure their pensions and other benefit payments can continue to be paid after November this year.
“I have raised this issue in recent months with the Minister for Communities and I have received further enquiries since from elderly people who are very used to their post office account and the simplicity of this method,” explained Mr Irwin.
“They are really daunted and concerned by the move away from this method of payment.”
“Some elderly folk I have assisted feel overwhelmed with the terms and conditions which they must sign up to operate a current account with a card facility and some don’t have all the identity documents required.
“Whilst this is routine for many who are well used to signing up for various services, elderly people can be more reticent of paper work and what it all means.”
Mr Irwin added: “I feel there could be steps that banking organisations could take to enable this process in these specific circumstances to be slightly less burdensome on the elderly.
“This could be around offering greater assistance one-to-one and through simplifying the process, for instance if the person has limited identification documents.
“There is a lot of detail contained in the benefits letters that people received and I feel it would be easy for banks to quickly verify a person’s identify and reason for opening an account on this specific basis with further verification provided by the Department for Communities.”
He concluded: “The Payment Exception Service will also operate from this summer which will help through the issuing of redeemable vouchers to those pensioners who have been unable to open a bank account.
“However, this will be a short term measure and thus there remains a time pressure for the creation of a bank account. I will again be raising these matters with the Minister for Communities to encourage greater co-operation with banks to ensure no one is disenfranchised or greatly inconvenienced.”