HC Deb 17 March 2003 vol 401 cc620-1
10. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

What plans he has to assist disabled people with access to pension payments. [102954]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

For convenience and safety, many disabled people and pensioners already have their money paid straight into a bank or building society account, and others will want to have their money paid into an account that they can use at the Post Office. I was disappointed therefore to note that the Post Office's new PIN pad is not as user friendly as it should be. We are working closely with the Post Office and customer organisations to ensure that the new arrangements fully meet the needs of all our customers, particularly those of disabled people and pensioners.

Mr. Cunningham

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Which disabled groups did she consult prior to the introduction of the smart card?

Maria Eagle

The Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Post Office consulted the usual disability organisations, including the Royal National Institute of the Blind. Today, I am laying before Parliament the Visually Impaired (Blind and Partially Sighted) Regulations 2003, which automatically include more blind and partially sighted people in the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 without them having to prove that they fit the definition. That should make it clear that under the DDA there are legal obligations on service providers such as the Post Office to make their services accessible to disabled people, including those with a visual impairment, and not to ignore them. All customers with a disability will still be able to access their payments at a post office, if that is what they want.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

Can the Minister explain what happens in circumstances where a disabled pensioner becomes ill and has not previously nominated somebody to operate their Post Office card account, and thus cannot attend in person to enter their number? Will pensioners in those circumstances be able to gain access to their pension? What is the arrangement? At present, it is not clear whether the exemption scheme will cover that situation. It is not clear how people will get their pensions in such circumstances.

Maria Eagle

The Post Office has admitted that it needs to examine more closely the way in which the PIN pad works. It is examining how to make it more user friendly, and other ways of accessing the Post Office card account without a PIN pad. The circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has described are no different from those that currently apply when a pensioner cannot get to the post office: they are able to nominate someone else to get their money for them.