§ Mrs. Dunwoody
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what consultations he has had with 67WS the Banking Association to ensure that pensioners required to open bank accounts to receive their state benefits do not incur extra charges on temporary overdrafts greater than their benefit. 
§ Mr. Pond
Customers are being provided with detailed information on the account options available to them. It is for customers to decide which account best meets their needs and circumstances. 87 per cent. of benefit customers and 90 per cent. of pensioners already have access to a bank account. The move to Direct Payment will give people more choice about where and when they collect their money—including from the Post Office.
Officials have had a number of discussions with the British Bankers' Association about the move to Direct Payment of benefits and pensions. The features of individual accounts (including charges and overdraft facilities) are a matter for the account provider. There is a wide range of accounts available which are free to operate and do not offer overdraft facilities. Some account providers do charge their customers if there is not enough money in their account to cover direct debits. Account providers make their customers aware of these charges and leaflets provided to benefits customers and pensioners also set out the possibility of charges in these circumstances.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many housebound, disabled and blind pensioners not in possession of a bank account he estimates will be able to receive state benefits over the counter after 2005. 
§ Mr. Pond
With direct payment, customers can still collect their benefit or pension at the Post Office, if they choose to do so, by using some current bank accounts, basic bank accounts or the Post Office card account.
Already 87 per cent. of all customers and over 90 per cent. of pensioners have access to an account that can receive direct payment. And for those who do not, the new easy to operate accounts, which are accessible at the Post Office, are widely available.
We have always recognised that there will be a small group of people who we cannot pay directly into an account. We are developing an exceptions method of payment to pay this group, which can be accessed at Post Office branches. This will be based on an understanding of the individual problems such customers will face.
§ Mr. Pond
The order book system is outdated, inefficient, open to fraud and abuse, and costly to administer. It needs to be modernised to keep in step with changing customer needs and to reflect the fact that most people now have and use a bank account. Already 87 per cent. of all customers and over 90 per cent. of pensioners have access to an account that can receive Direct Payment. And for those who do not, new easy to operate accounts, which are accessible at the Post Office, are widely available. Everyone who wishes to do68WS so will be able to withdraw their money at post office branches by choosing an account, which is accessible at the Post Office.
We are consulting with Specific Interest Groups such as Age Concern, Help the Aged, Citizens Advice, and the National Pensioners Convention about an alternative method of payment, which is likely to be cheque based, for those who are genuinely unable to operate any type of bank account. Payment outlets for this exceptions method of payment will include Post Office branches. We expect this service will be in place from October 2004.