Electronic payments a threat to post office network
STRUGGLING post offices trying to stave off closure and keep rural communities alive face a double blow, it has emerged.
The first setback is that the Government payment of €100 household aid towards the new water bill for low income families is to be paid through a bank - not the post office. The second is that the Social Protection Department's continued aim is to increase numbers of electronic payments mainly directed towards banks.
The Social Protection Department has written to people on low incomes and likely to qualify for the so-called "household package" series of payments. These payments are designed to help struggling families pay utility bills and meet other household costs.
The news comes as the post office operators' representative the Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) has been advised to enter a crucial period of conciliation talks with An Post on cost cutting and new arrangements for paying social welfare. The talks come amid hopes that An Post can become part of the automatic welfare payments system.
Government recently agreed that the household package will now include €25 per quarter towards water charges. But the departmental letter clearly states that people must forward bank account details to qualify.
At the same time the Department of Social Protection last week told a Dail committee it is continuing to move away from cash payments towards automated electronic payments. Fianna Fail's social protection spokesman, Willie O'Dea (inset), said the two moves directly contradicted the Government's stated aim of trying to support the post office network to meet the series of challenges it now faces.
"On the one hand Government tell us that they want to help keep post offices in business - but in the next breath they continue to take business away from them," Mr O'Dea said.
IPU secretary general, Ned O'Hara, said his members are considering entering conciliatory talks with An Post as recommended by a dispute arbitrator. "The next six months are crucial to us and the future of our members and the post office network which plays a crucial role in community. Our members recognise that electronic payments are increasingly becoming a reality and we need to explore ways of playing our part," he said.