HC Deb 07 June 2004 vol 422 cc18-9
16. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)

How many pensioners are receiving payment of their pensions at post offices in the Bolton, South-East constituency. [177327]

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

As at 17 April 2004, 6,000 pensioners in Bolton, South-East received their payments by order book, which they cash at the Post Office. Almost 5,500 pensioners have had their money paid directly into an account. Many of those pensioners can access their payments in cash at the post office through the wider range of banking services now available at post office branches.

Dr. Iddon

All of us are being asked to remember more and more personal identification numbers and passwords, the latest example being the Fees Office, but at least it gives Members of Parliament clues to help us out. Is my hon. Friend aware that some pensioners find it extremely difficult to remember their PINs for the post office and that as a consequence some post offices are keeping lists of those PINs behind the counter? Will he discuss that problem with Post Office Counters Ltd. the next time he meets its representatives?

Mr. Pond

I certainly will. We understand that some people may have difficulty remembering their PINs, and my hon. Friend suggests that he might be one of them. I do not know whether he has taken out a Post Office card account, but I can tell him that he will not be entitled to it. It is not good banking practice for anyone, including sub-postmasters, to keep PINs behind the counter. I am not sure that that is good for the system's overall security. Of course, customers have the opportunity to change the PIN originally allocated to a number that they can more easily remember—perhaps their date of birth—and it is the job of staff and sub-postmasters to remind them of that. However, we have always recognised that a small number of people will not be able to operate the PIN system effectively, which is why we have announced a cheque-based system of payment, to begin from October this year.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab)

I congratulate the pensioners of Bolton, South-East on getting a PIN because that means they have managed to open a Post Office card account, which is still proving very difficult and a bureaucratic nightmare. Will the Minister consider the various stages that a pensioner has to go through to open a Post Office card account to ensure that the system is much easier to use and that some of the silly rules, which act as a barrier to people opening such accounts, are removed?

Mr. Pond

Already, 3 million customers have said that they want to open a Post Office card account and 2 million have done so. We recognise that some customers may find the process difficult, but we have made it as simple as we can. We are considering ways to make the process more customer friendly and simpler to operate. We are in discussions with the Post Office on how best to do that.