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Fears for future of rural post offices

There is growing anger over proposals to change social welfare payments from post offices to fully electronic payments.

There is growing anger over proposals to change social welfare payments from post offices to fully electronic payments.

A tender due out this month from the Department of Social Protection will effectively see recipients of social welfare payments being forced to use bank accounts.

Last month Cllr Paddy O’Rourke put forward a motion calling for the Minister for Social Protection to reverse plans to change the way payments are made.

However a letter from the Department of Social Protection received by Leitrim County Council claims that the change is something a majority of users are seeking.

Cllr Francis Gilmartin said he was disgusted by the response.

“Those receiving social welfare payments are already facing cuts and now AIB have announced an increase in charges so this will just further cut into their payments,” he said. “Social Protection may save a lot of money by this change but that money should be put back in to payments to help offset the loss for those on social welfare.”

Cllr Paddy O’Rourke agreed saying that there was no demand for this change and it was going to leave “a whole swathe of people who were unfamiliar with these types of payments, with no other option”.

He said the move would also devastate our already fragile rural post office network as social welfare payments make up 80% of their business.

“This will start the fall of the local post office,” he warned.

His words were echoed by Cllr Mary Bohan, who is also a post mistress in Drumkeerin.

“It beggars belief really that two weeks ago Minister Pat Rabbitte was praising post offices and calling for more services to be given to us, and here we have his party colleague transferring services away,” she said.

Cllr Bohan said post offices were the hub of a community and also played an important social role. “If you don’t see a regular elderly recipient, maybe someone who lives alone, for a few days you know there is something wrong, how will we know now?” she said.

The Irish Postmasters’ Union has also criticised the move saying it would force the 18% of Irish people who are unbanked, and mainly use the Post Office, into the arms of the banking community.

“Pensioners should ask that their pensions be paid in cash through the Post Office so they can avoid those bank charges,” they said. “We at the IPU call on the Minister to reconsider the strategy she has adopted of moving to fully electronic payments.”

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