HC Deb 07 July 2003 vol 408 cc748-50
19. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

How many benefit recipients have applied for (a) a Post Office card account and (b) a basic bank account. [123539]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

As of 27 June 2003, 450,000 customers have requested a Post Office card account. Almost 2 million customers have provided their bank account details. We do not differentiate between basic and current accounts when collecting account details from customers. I am today placing in the Library the latest key figures on progress towards conversion to direct payment.

Mr. Robathan

I think that it was before the hon. Gentleman took up his post that we had a debate on this issue during which the Minister for Pensions specifically stated that people were not being harassed into taking a basic bank account or having their payments made into their current card account. The very next day, I got a letter from a constituent who said, "I am 83 years old and I am being harassed not to take a Post Office card account." Will the Under-Secretary ensure that people have genuine choice, are allowed to have a Post Office card account if they wish, and are not compelled to have some other form of automated credit transfer payment?

Mr. Pond

As the hon. Gentleman knows, 450,000 people have taken Post Office card accounts up. Half of all pensioners have already applied for one, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions said a few moments ago. We are giving people genuine choices between a Post Office card account and a clearing bank account or a basic bank account. I shall be happy to consider the case that he suggests, but we want to ensure that people receive payment at the post office and on a weekly basis, if they wish. We are giving people genuine choices.