Rural post office closures attacked

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The Independent Online

The Government came under attack yesterday for deliberately attempting to run down the post office network, particularly branches in rural areas.

The Government came under attack yesterday for deliberately attempting to run down the post office network, particularly branches in rural areas.

Ministers were accused of dithering over financial assistance to prevent further rural closures and also of drawing up plans to make it as difficult as possible for benefit claimants to continue receiving payments through their local post office.

From next April, the UK's 25 million benefit claimants will have to receive payments either direct into their bank account or by using a smart card at a post office counter.

Guidance drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions says that those wishing to have benefits paid direct into a bank account will simply have to telephone a central number and give their account details.

However, those who want to continue using a post office will first have to fill in a lengthy form and then undergo an interview. An estimated 10 million claimants still collect their benefits at a post office and, of these about three million have no bank account.

The new payments system will be trialled initially with those receiving war pensions. An estimated six to seven million people could opt to continue receiving benefits at the post office at a cost to the Government of £400m to £500m.

Postwatch, the consumer body, fears that the DWP is going out of its way to make it as difficult as possible for this to happen, in an effort to save money.

Peter Carr, the Postwatch chairman, also attacked the Government for failing to announce how it plans to provide financial assistance for rural post offices, even though the regulator Postcomm put forward proposals in December last year.

Postcomm also criticised the lack of action.

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