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Post Office Network — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities) 9:30 am, 10th March 2020

I said earlier that there was unanimity across this Chamber, and there is. I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention, and of course I agree with her.

It is really important that the Government and the Minister give us some surety that they are still pushing, in the spending review, for this subsidy to continue; I have already described the costly effects that might occur if it does not. A number of Government services are disappearing from our post offices; for instance, the Government have put post offices at a severe disadvantage when it comes to applications for passports. Why is it much cheaper to apply online? I remember that when I applied for my first ever passport, I filled in the form wrong three times. The nice lady in the Crown post office in Wishaw sent me back and told me to fill it in again. I was a teacher then, and I was busy—I could make all sorts of excuses—but I would not have got that passport if she had not said, “No, do this and this.” Of course, being me, I had left it until the last minute. I had three young children, a full-time job and a husband who thought that going on holiday just meant not working for two weeks. That is the kind of vital social service that post offices provide.

I have spoken about this issue to other Members on many occasions. One Welsh Member, who is not here today, told me about the valuable service that his mother’s local post office used to give her when she went in. Because the postmaster knew her PIN, he helped her to get her money out and to put it into different pockets for different things, and really just helped her along. Postmasters in my own constituency have told me that they feel hamstrung now. They cannot provide the kind of service that they used to, simply because they have so little time. They are trying so hard to make money to live on that they cannot spend the time that they used to with their more vulnerable customers.

Is the Minister aware that since October 2019, the Post Office card account has no longer been available to new claimants and pensioners? There has been an invidious, insidious attack on the Post Office card account for a number of years. In 2015, a local sub-postmaster came to me with a very official-looking letter from the Department for Work and Pensions addressed to a constituent. It said, more or less in these words, “You must have a bank account in order to get your benefits and your pension.” For years, the Post Office card account has been used successfully by pensioners and claimants. They could go into their trusted local post office and draw money out on it without having to worry about having a bank card and going overdrawn, or about the difficulty of setting up a bank account. Many people do not have a passport or a driving licence, and they have never had a bank account and find it difficult to open one. The Post Office card account was ideal for those people, but now it is gone. Are there any plans to bring it back?