Sunday 11 December 2016

Reprieve for post offices as dole e-payment letters are stopped

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

The U-turn by Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar will help protect up to €54m worth of post office business. Photo: Tony Gavin
The U-turn by Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar will help protect up to €54m worth of post office business. Photo: Tony Gavin

Rural post offices have been boosted by a Government promise to stop contacting jobseekers to offer payment to their bank accounts.

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Some welfare recipients have received letters from the Department of Social Protection, asking them for their bank details so payments can be lodged directly to their bank accounts - thereby diverting business away from post offices.

The U-turn by Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar will help protect up to €54m worth of post office business.

Many postmasters feared they would have to close their doors because customers were being directed away from cashing social-welfare cheques with them. This accounts for 30pc of their business, according to the Irish Postmasters Union.

Responding to questions from Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, himself a postmaster, Mr Varadkar vowed his department would stop sending letters to An Post customers advising them of payment via their bank accounts.

"When I was a kid, I used to go to the post office in Blanchardstown with my mum to pick up what was then the children's allowance," said the minister.

"I want to assure the deputy that my department will no longer take any measures which seek to actively influence customer choice in the manner of payment away from cash payments at the post office.

"Staff in my department will be formally advised by circular next month that, when dealing with payment options, customers can choose between payment at the post office or by electronic funds transfer."

Mr Healy-Rae welcomed the move and said it will help to protect a vital service in rural communities across the country.

"If we lose the post offices from our villages and towns, that will be the last thing to go, given we have lost the small shops and pubs.

"It is not the big, bad Government that is going to close them - the postmasters will close them themselves because their income will not be enough to keep their doors open.

"Mr Varadkar is new in the department and inherited this issue, so I do not blame him personally. However, now that he is in the position, it is very important he is proactive in the way he has said he will be."

A drop of €1.8m in An Post's annual revenue was attributed to a fall in the volume of social welfare benefit payments distributed in post offices.

Mr Varadkar said welfare recipients will still have a choice of using bank accounts for payment.

"I have no difficulty with the post office being the first option and the bank or electronic transfer being the second, as long as the customer chooses," he said.

Sunday Independent

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