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Thursday 17 October 2019

Credit card giant offers to 'speed up' welfare pay

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Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Credit card giant Visa has said it can reduce the "paper mountain" of cheques being issued to social welfare clients.

Visa says it could process and pay claims to recipients in 30 minutes - far quicker than the traditional cheque .

The company has told officials it wants to "contribute to" the tendering process for a state contract that allows social welfare payments to be made at post offices.

Officials are currently preparing to put this contract to a public tender in the coming months for the provision of a new service from next January.

Visa has held a number of meetings with officials in the Department of Social Protection to outline how it can use its services to streamline payment methods and help with the issuing of emergency payments.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show officials from Visa and the Department met last year, and again in January 2019, to discuss technical aspects of a "Visa Direct" service.

Notes from a meeting between the company's representatives and officials in the Department of Social Protection at Aras Mhic Diarmada show Visa claimed it would be able to issue "real-time digital payments" to welfare recipients via a bank by reversing the processes used to charge a customer's debit card.

According to the meeting notes, the service would be able to provide money to a customer within 30 minutes.

In follow-up emails, Visa said it "is keen to work closely with the Department, and indeed other Departments and officials as required, to assist with your efforts to reduce the amount of cheques issued and to help with emergency payments as a first port of call."

Visa then raised the An Post social welfare contract, which is up for renewal next year, and the imminent public tender. It said it wanted to be made aware of "any indicative timelines for this activity".

"Obviously, this is something that Visa, and I imagine a lot of other industry stakeholders, would be very keen to contribute to," it said.

Officials in the Department said they noted the Visa Direct service as "an alternative payment method to cheques" and emergency payments. However, they said that their interpretation was that it "didn't have anything to do with the An Post services contract".

A spokeswoman for the Department told the Sunday Independent it is constantly looking at ways to "improve and innovate" the services it provides.

"Visa requested a meeting with the Department to provide information on its services and innovations," she added.

"Any new services provided by the Department would be subject to normal public procurement rules and governance arrangements."

A Visa spokesman said its services have the capabilities to transfer funds for organisations. He said it feels its services could complement current state payment methods.

"We had a preliminary discussion with the Department about its future strategy to modernise public welfare payments and highlighted how the incorporation of a direct-to-card solution like Visa Direct, alongside traditional payment methods, would support choice and convenience for recipients," the spokesman for Visa said.

Sunday Independent

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