Is DWP herding the vulnerable on-line, to be fleeced ?

Next week will see the 2012 National Digital Conference with over a thousand delegates exploring “the policy, leadership, innovation and collective action needed to support an inclusive and enterprising digital nation”. The state of current debates over electronic identities and payment mechanisms, let alone of those over data protection, privacy and security, indicates that inclusion and innovation will be almost the last things in the minds of those seeking to herd the sheep on-line to be fleeced. Whether the fleecing is to be done by the purveyors of technology, regulatory or compliance snake oil or by local and global organised crime, no-one appears to be giving priority to quality of service to paying customers. 

One of those planning to attend the National Digital Conference sent me the following guest blog. I have changed the heading from his original “Please sign here – but not at the Post Office.” and put his message into political context, but it is stark

The DWP has, whether by accident or design, created a situation whereby some of the most  vulnerable in society, with least access to reliable on-line services (if they could see or manage the dexterity to use them) are no longer able to use their local Post Office, where they can deal with staff they know and who know them, but must travel miles to a Paypoint  to use a less secure service. In rural areas, with few buses and expensive taxis, the increase in cost and the deterioration in quality of life flies unnecessarily in the face of declared government policy. Worse, it will be blamed, unjustly, on current ministers and their enthusiasm for using new technology to deliver better service at lower cost. 

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Weall know that older people love their Post Offices but does the Post Officelove them? Not if you can’t remember you PIN number. You can’t sign fortransactions using your Post Office Account Card or Bank Card. Post OfficeCounters Ltd clearly does not know it’s customers, particularly their mostvulnerable, even if their staff do. Signing for pensions and bank withdrawalsis the simple answer. Even if supplementary ID is needed, as in some countriesthat require it for all card transactions.

But is it actually the fault of the Post Office or of a mix ofpolitical dogma (those wishing to privatise Government’s last source offace-to-face contact with most of the population) and silo mentality (illusoryintra-cost centre savings aggregating to a massive collective increase inoutsourced spend)?

Whenthe Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Post Office introduced the PostOffice Card Account (POCA) a few years ago, most pensioners accepted this as areasonable alternative to Giro payments or paid their pensions into BankCurrent accounts. Those unable or unwilling to do so continued to be paid bycheque. This included some of the most vulnerable members of society.

WhenCHIP enabled cards were introduced, the Banking code insisted that CHIP andSIGNATURE card should be issued to people that can’t use CHIP and PINtechnology. Many people can’t remember their PINs and others cannot use thetechnology.

WithCHIP enabled cards the main security is in the encrypted CHIP. CHIP and PINonly proves that the person that has the card knows the number. It does notprove the identity of the card holder.

Butthe Post Office Card Account is not available as CHIP and Signature.


BecauseDWP policy forbids this.

TheDWP say that they comply with Equality issues by issuing Giro cheques to peoplewho can’t remembertheir PIN numbers. In consequence the DWP is forcing a significant number ofolder and less able people to give up their giro cheque and go to PayPointoutlets to collect their money using their new unnecessary and less safe systemominously called ‘Simple Payments’. Simple payments requires the issuance ofanother card and attending the paypoint counter with a memorable date and proofof ID. Meanwhile sub-post-offices are not permitted, for reasons that are notclear, to also offer PayPoint services and in many rural areas there is notenough business to support both a Sub Post Office and a PayPoint service – thechoice is either/or. Thus the nearest Paypoint to Gamblesby, which has a PostOffice, is Alston or Penrith, both a low frequency bus journey away.

 Almostall banks (except HSBC, the ‘World’s Local Bank’ and Santander, “Europe’s Biggest”) allow currentaccount holders to make withdrawals at Post Offices. But the Post Office doesnot allow CHIP and Signature Card holders to sign for their money.

Soeven if you are ‘financially included’ and have a bank account, but have tosign, – you are digitally excluded by the Post Office.

Perhapsthe suggestion that the whole DWP ‘Simple Payments’ system would be unnecessary ifthe Post Office did what retailers do and allowed usage of chip and signaturecards will upset those who promoted the ‘Simple Payments’ system.

Butthe suggestion that allowing usage of chip and signature cards will keep morePost Offices in business and respect the needs and wishes of older andvulnerable people is a much more powerful one.

TheUK Payments Council last year withdrew it’s plans to abolish cheques. This waspartly as a result of Age UK’s report “The way we pay” whichadvocated the use of a ‘magic card’. At the Alzheimer’s society report”Short Changed, Protecting people with Dementia from financial abuse”a speaker, who suffers memory loss after a stroke, could not understand why thePost Office insisted on using PINs and did not have a method of identificationthat included photo ID. After all, most older people have, (and in many cases,only understand) their routine, and are known and therefore identified, by thestaff in their local post office. And they carry photo ID – bus passes. 

ActionOn Elder abuse warns that Financial Abuse of the elderly is more prevalent thanphysical and sexual abuse. Financial abuse is also most commonly committed bypersons in a position of trust – family and carers. Older people have a rightto their independence and not to rely on others.  

TheUK Payments Council, to their credit, have included wider issuance and use ofCHIP and Signature Cards in their strategic plan. This is partly because ofwidespread publicity and lobbying for consumer groups including Which?  

Nextweek’s  Digital Inclusion ConferenceND2012 will be interesting – especially to hear what promises Paula Vennels,Chief Executive of the Post Office is going to make to assist her vulnerablecustomers. Perhaps she has listened to her fellow panellist from last year,Gordon Graylish, Global VP Enterprise and Marketing. Intel. Who said “Weshould be looking at people who need services, and those services can bedelivered in a hundred different ways, or a thousand different ways, …But themost important thing is to think about the people and how you help them, ratherthan try to make them fit into an 18 year olds mindset of the Internet.”

TomWright, Chief Executive of Age UK is also speaking – will he be recognisingdigital exclusion for significant numbers of people that his charity represents,and their carers. Particularly during the ‘Everyone Online’ sessions in daytwo.

Frances Maude will be speaking for Cabinet Office but the need is for Ian Duncan Smith, as Secretary of State for DWP andStephen Webb, his IT enthusiastic LibDem Minister for Pension, to demand that their officials indulgein joined-up thinking with those reporting to Ed Davey, BIS Minister for Consumer andPostal Affairs and to Mark Hoban, Financial Secretary to the Treasury (including Banking services responsibility) with regardto the cost-effective use of technology to better serve the public, rather than perpetuating the New Labour business models of their incumbent consultants and outsourcing suppliers.   



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