Byline: TOBY WALNE
THE Post Office faces major embarrassment as customers being targeted by its flagship Universal Banking Services refuse to give up their benefits books.
Hundreds of pensioners in Tyne & Wear are protesting against being ' bulldozed' into the changeover and are ignoring pleas to choose another way of being paid benefits other than in cash.
Universal Banking Services aims to transform the way claimants receive benefits by making most payments into to bank or building society accounts rather than over post office counters.
Those who do not want benefits paid this way will be offered a Post Office card account, which can be used solely for collecting state benefits, such as pensions, child allowance and jobseeker's allowance.
Benefits will be paid direct into the account and the claimant gets the cash by having the card swiped at any post office. Traditional benefits books are being phased out.
But the pilot scheme in Tyne & Wear shows that most people are not prepared to have benefits paid into bank accounts or use the card account.
The results will cause concern for Post Office chiefs as the changeover rolls out in April, initially to 150,000 people.
By April 2005, the Post Office wants all 14 million people collecting benefits to receive them the new way.
The protests in Tyne & Wear centre on the Nile Street post office in North Shields. Sub-postmistress Karen Potter, 41, says: 'People are being bulldozed into options they do not want - options that will be bad for communities, ultimately forcing post offices to close.' BUT she says that customers are refusing to give in to bully-boy tactics forced on them without consultation.
'They are ignoring letters sent by the Post Office and will continue to use pension books come what may. If we do not stand up now, it will be too late and the battle will have been lost.' People targeted for Universal Banking Services will receive a letter explaining the situation and the new options several weeks in advance.
The first batch has been posted. However, though the letter claims to be ' giving it to you straight', there is no explanation of what might happen if who have saved a collective pound sterling3 billion in bonds, are among the worst hit.
They all invested after August 2000, when the bond was launched, and so have not enjoyed any of the market growth of the Nineties.
Worse, because Standard maintained a high …