§ Phil Sawford
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on progress with the implementation of universal banking services. 
§ Mr. Alexander
Good progress is being made on universal banking services in advance of the migration of benefit payments to ACT in 2003. Through universal banking services there will be post office access to a range of bank accounts. This will enable all those who wish to do so to continue to be able to collect their benefits in cash at post offices. The Government are currently negotiating with the Post Office for the provision of the Post Office Card Account and is developing a detailed migration and marketing strategy for the transition to ACT.
The emphasis of the ACT migration and marketing strategy will be to ensure that each customer has the best account for his or her circumstances. Conventional and 120W basic bank accounts offer more services and do not have the limitations of the Post Office Card Account so are likely to be the best option for the vast majority of people.
Our operational assumption is that around three million benefit and tax credit recipients will open a POCA, but there will not be a cap on numbers or eligibility criteria for a POCA. For most people the best account will be a conventional bank account or a basic bank account, whether new or existing. The vast majority of claimants already have an existing bank account and we expect that they will choose to use them when they start to be paid by ACT.
If claimants do not have a bank account, staff of the Government Departments concerned will discuss options with them to help them take the best choice for their circumstances.
Whatever type of account is used we remain fully committed to meeting the Prime Minister's pledge that those who wish to do so will be able to continue to get their benefits in cash at post offices, in full and without charge.