§ Dr. Stoate
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the impact on 977W the incomes of sub-postmasters of the switch to the payment of pensions and allowances through the automated credit transfer system. 
§ Mr. Timms
The current value to Consignia of business from the Department of Work and Pensions is some £400 million a year. The migration of benefit payments to ACT is scheduled to begin in 2003. How that migration affects the revenue of subpostmasters will depend on a number of factors, not least how benefit recipients and other post office customers respond to change.
Banking will be a central part of post offices' strategy to move forward. Universal banking services, together with Post Office Limited's plans for an expansion of network banking—the provision of counter services for ordinary current accounts—should lead to a substantial increase in the range and volume of banking at post offices, tapping into a very much larger customer base than benefit recipients alone. This should benefit subpostmasters both directly and through increased footfall, providing a major income stream offsetting the loss over time of the benefit book related revenue.
Universal banking services are due to be introduced in 2003 when migration of benefit payments by ACT is scheduled to begin. When that happens and whatever account people chose to have their benefits paid into, the Government is committed to ensuring 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.