Letters sent by the DWP to people with Post Office Accounts are not only economical with the truth, they are quite clearly designed to mislead people into thinking they have no alternative but to open a bank account instead. One of our activists got one of these letters this week. It read:
‘We are paying your benefits or tax credits into a Post Office card account. You are now expected to use a bank, building society or credit union account. Most people now use one of these accounts. Please call us now with your account details’
Of course is doesn’t actually quite say that you have to change from your Post Office account, but it is written in a way that suggests you have to. Our activist wasn’t so easily taken in, but she thought she should ring just to confirm: ‘She told me that at the moment it is an option but the letters will keep coming and that one day in the future it won’t be an option. I told her that I will keep the payments going into the PO and she said that’s fine.’
This is all part of the drive to make as many payments digital as possible. Even basic bank accounts allow direct debits, which Post Office accounts don’t. But people who can only just make ends meet often don’t want to set up direct debits because it is harder to keep track of every penny.
The pressure to move people to bank accounts has been there since the Post Office card account replaced paper based systems in 2003, when there were accusations that opening a card account was being made deliberately difficult. The demise of Post Office accounts has been reported regularly, but the Coalition Government proudly announced in 2014 that they had made a new contract that would guarantee the accounts until 2021.