Friday 24 March 2017

Postmasters protest over diverting social welfare payments to banks 

Postmasters say they can not survive without the social welfare payments
Postmasters say they can not survive without the social welfare payments

David Kearns

Irish postmasters sent back hundreds of parcels containing social protection forms in protest of plans to make almost all social welfare payments electronically.

The Irish Postmasters Union (IPU) accused the Government of making them hand out forms that encourage customers “to use banks over post offices where possible”, a move, they say, is a direct threat to their “livelihoods”.

“Our members are not civil servants and their positions are not permanent and pensionable,” said Ned O'Hara, IPU General Secretary.

Members of the union gathered at the doors of the Department of Social Protection in Dublin this morning to return Social Protection forms in person in protest against the policy.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, Mr O'Hara said the action was being taken due to a sense of frustration at being excluded from discussions.

He said all post offices were under the threat of closure if the social protection business was taken away.

Currently around half of all social protection payments are paid electronically, with the other half at the post office.

Acknowledging that electronic payments “where the way of the future”, he said postmasters do not feel threatened by the technology and felt they are part of the answer.

“Postmasters are not radicals, but rather a national asset that is a valued by their communities - particularly in rural areas.”

Minister for State Kevin Humphreys said the Government was working on creating a
Minister for State Kevin Humphreys said the Government was working on creating a "future business model" for post offices

Mr O'Hara said that any new business proposed by the department cannot replace the loss of existing business.

The social protection application forms allow customers to apply for the likes of the State pension and the Household Benefits Package to be paid directly to their bank, and advised that electronic transfer are the "best payment option” for customers.

An independent review carried out a few months ago found that if the migration proposed by the Department of Social Protection goes ahead, hundreds of jobs will be lost.

Addressing concerns raised by the IPU, Minister of State Kevin Humphreys said that the Government was working on “creating a new business model for post offices that will work for the future.”

“We will have solid proposals by the end of the year,” he told RTE Radio One.

“I would see today as a public stunt, this argument has been settled and what we should be doing now is working on a sustainable business model.”

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