Postcheque makes its last delivery: Travellers are bewailing the demise of Girobank's far-flung cheque service, reports Lisa Vaughan

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GIROBANK customers are mourning the loss of Postcheque, the bank's unique service enabling current account holders to cash cheques at post offices throughout Western Europe and other countries, even in the most remote areas.

At the end of last year, Girobank notified the 16,000 customers who used Postcheque - 1 per cent of Giro's total customer base - that it would be discontinuing the service at the end of February.

The bank has so far received letters from 100 customers expressing disappointment that Postcheque is being cut off. It admits that those who used the facility were extremely enthusiastic about it.

Edward Kendrick of Redditch, Worcestershire, described it beautifully in a letter to the Independent: 'On walking or cycling holidays, the longer opening hours and friendly atmosphere of small post offices can make obtaining supplies of local currency a pleasant interlude rather than a chore: in remote Styrian mountains, County Mayo hamlets, somnolent Bavarian villages, mining towns in Lapland and isolated settlements in provincial France - in all of these I have spent a leisured five minutes cashing a cheque.

'But no longer. Guided by the infallible instinct that financial institutions have for spotting a service that is cheap, attractive and useful to the customer, they're gonna stop it,' Mr Kendrick wrote.

Another fan, James Armstrong from Edinburgh, wrote that he had used Girobank's Postcheque service almost since its inception. 'The ability to get cash six days a week almost anywhere on the Continent, even in the depths of the countryside, made the service far more convenient than any other method of obtaining spending money.'

Girobank says it decided to axe the operation reluctantly. It said it had been making 'considerable' and increasing losses on the Postcheque service for several years. The number of users was slowly declining because of the increasing availability of alternative ways to get cash when travelling.

'Ninety-nine per cent of our customers were subsidising the 1 per cent of our customer base who used them,' a spokesman said.

But the bank acknowledges that for its Postcheque customers who like to go to remote areas on holiday, getting cash will now be a problem. In rural or undeveloped areas, credit and debit cards may not be accepted and cash dispensers often do not exist.

The bank recommends that, when travelling, its former Postcheque customers try alternatives including travellers' cheques, credit and debit cards, and cash machines that accept Girobank cards in Portugal and Spain.

Another option is eurocheques, offered by some banks (but not Girobank) for use on the Continent.

To soften the blow, Girobank is replying to the customers who have written letters complaining about the service being closed down, explaining again its reasons for doing so. Postcheque customers with leftover cheques can get a full refund if they mail them to the regional office where their account is handled, the bank says.

The price of the service included cheques at 6p each, a commission fee of 1 per cent of the value of each cashed cheque debited from a Girobank account, and a varying charge for the exchange rate difference.

Girobank does not expect that any of its competitors in the bank or building society market will jump into the breach to start up a similar service, now that Girobank is leaving. 'If we were losing money, they would too,' the spokesman said.

(Photograph omitted)

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