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Coronavirus: Former minister warns pensioners could run out of cash

People maintain social distancing as they queue outside a post office in Wolverhampton city centre as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (PA)

Thousands of pensioners could be running out of cash because they do not want to risk going to the Post Office, a former pension minister has warned.

Almost one million retirees and benefit claimants get their payments in person at a Post Office counter using a Post Office Card Account. But they may not be aware of alternative ways to get their cash during the coronavirus lockdown, meaning they choose to stay at home, instead of collecting their pension.

A scheme to send these people cash was only launched by the Department for Work and Pensions last week, with just 27,000 people being contacted so far.

Steve Webb, a former Lib Dem pension minister and now partner at consultancy LCP, said it put vulnerable people and the over-70s who have been advised to stay at home in a difficult position. Some may have feel they had to choose between risking their health by going in person, risking fraud or theft by giving their card and PIN to others and running out of cash altogether.

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“It is good that DWP has special schemes to help people obtain cash in these difficult times,” said Webb. “But with nearly a million people normally getting pensions and benefits in cash via a Post Office, it is worrying that less than 30,000 have been contacted directly by the DWP to discuss alternatives."

“There must be a concern that some pensioners feel they have no choice but to break shielding rules in order to get cash from a Post Office, or that others are simply going without,” added Webb, pensions minister under the coalition government.

But the DWP hit back strongly at Webb’s claims. It said it was working closely with the Post Office and National Shielding Service to help the most vulnerable.

 “This is an unfair and inaccurate interpretation of the government’s swift action to support the most vulnerable,” said a spokesperson.

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“We’ve contacted tens of thousands of pensioners who have no alternative payment arrangements in place, and a range of other payment options already exist for hundreds of thousands of Post Office card account holders.”

One alternative option is for vulnerable pensioners to request their cash be delivered to their home by the Post Office. People who have not been contacted by the DWP can also appoint an individual to act on their behalf, nominate someone to become an agent on their account, change their payment method to a standard account or collect payments via PayPoint outlets.

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