SDLP MLA for Mid Ulster, Patsy McGlone,
has expressed concern after it emerged that the Department for Communities
was pressurising pensioners to switch to using bank accounts to receive
their pensions instead of their existing Post Office account.
Mr McGlone said, "I was concerned to
learn from many constituents that they, or people they knew, were receiving
letters from the Department for Communities trying to persuade them to
switch to using bank accounts to receive their pensions instead of their
existing Post Office account.
“For many of them, their Post Office
account is their preferred method of receiving their pensions and, in rural
communities, visiting their local Post Office is an important way of keeping
in touch with their neighbours. They were worried at the thought that, if
they did not change to a bank account, they would not be able to access
their pension payments.
“At a time when banks are closing
large numbers of local branches, it seems strange that a government
department is seeking to undermine one of the few remaining organisations
prepared to keep open rural services.
“At the start of this year I sought,
and secured, confirmation from the Department that a similar campaign on
benefit payments was not mandatory, and that it was entirely up to the
individual concerned how they received their payments.
“Yet the letters currently being sent
out to pensioners makes no mention of this choice.
“I would urge anyone receiving these
letters to make a careful and informed decision about what way they prefer
to receive their pensions. They should not feel under any pressure to change
to a bank account if they do not want to.
“I will be asking the Department to
review the wording of any future letters being sent out to pensioners to
more accurately reflect all the options available to them.”