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Pensions Chaos Fears If Giros Are Scrapped

By Jonathan McCambridge, Belfast telegraph

 February 28, 2003

GOVERNMENT plans to scrap giros and pension books could cause chaos for Ulster's pensioners and low-income families, it was claimed today.

The plans, which will come into effect in April, will mean claimants will have to open a bank or Post Office account rather than using their traditional giro book.

But local pressure groups have said they fear that the plans could mean many will miss out on benefits or even fall into debt.

They are also concerns that the claimants, many of whom do not have bank accounts, are unaware of the coming changes.

Siobhan Harding, information and policy officer at the Citizen's Advice Bureau, said there were concerns that a number of benefit recipients were not "financially literate".

She said: "Many of them do not have experience of the banking system; we are afraid when the new system comes in they will have difficulty coping with it and will find it confusing.

"We are also worried about the customer services many of these customers will get. It will take a lot of time to explain the system to them and they will not be lucrative customers for banks.

"There are a lot of people who rely solely on benefits. We are worried that they will be mis-sold the wrong accounts; in the worst case they could miss out on benefits or even fall into debt."

Tom Cairns, director of corporate affairs and advocacy for Age Concern said it was essential that older people were made aware of all the choices open to them.

He said: "Many of them have a strong preference for keeping their benefits books and accessing their money at their local Post Office and assurances were given in the Assembly that they are still entitled to do this.

"However we need clearer information on how payment modernisation will work for them.

"As an organisation we are aware of the key role that the Post Office plays in many people's lives."

A DSD spokesman said everybody affected by the changes would be written to.

"What we are telling people is not to panic. Do not do anything until you are contacted. The changes will come in gradually, not all at once.

"We have done some survey work and it showed seven out of 10 were willing to move over to the new direct payment system.

"We have also done pilot work to test the system and it has gone smoothly," he added.

"The Social Security Agency is working with special interest groups and we have agreed to provide significant funding to the public sector to help members of the public to be able to take advantage of the change."

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