The UK’s Post Office has this week announced new initiatives to help self-isolating individuals get quicker and easier access to cash during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Post Office (PO), a government-owned limited company, unveiled its ‘Fast PACE’ scheme to provide access to cash “more simply and speedily” through its branch network. The new scheme builds on the existing PACE service – short for ‘Pre-Authorised Cheque Encashment’ – which allows vulnerable customers to arrange for named individuals, such as carers, to cash cheques for them at local post offices. Under Fast PACE, any trusted individual – such as a friend or neighbour – can replace the named individuals permitted under the original service.
The PO has been working with HM Treasury, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and trade association UK Finance to launch Fast PACE, which also aims to speed up the registration time from as long as two weeks to a couple of days.
Also this week, the PO has announced that it has made its Payout Now product available to all UK banks, building societies and credit unions. Payout Now enables financial businesses to send a one-use barcode voucher to customers via SMS text, email or post, enabling them to withdraw cash at a PO branch. As with Fast PACE, the range of people who can cash that voucher code on behalf of customers has now been broadened.
Self-isolating or vulnerable citizens will need to contact their financial institution to ask if they are offering either or both of the two services. HSBC has already confirmed that it is offering Fast PACE to its customers.
Ensuring people are not ‘cut off’
The PO network has more than 11,500 branches, the vast majority of which remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. However, some have reduced opening hours or have had to close at short notice due to staff needing to self-isolate.
Reacting to the PO’s move, Gareth Shaw, head of money at UK consumer body Which?, said in a statement this week: “Millions of people rely on cash every day but many will struggle to access their money during the coronavirus crisis. Our research has found a third of people, including those aged 65 and over and vulnerable consumers, have concerns about managing their money digitally, so this initiative will ensure those who rely on cash will not be cut off during this difficult time.
“Initiatives like this also highlight how close to collapse the UK’s cash network is and further drive home the need for swift action to guarantee access to cash over the long-term.”
Rapidly evolving situation
Global Government Forum reported last month that the government had committed in its latest Budget to “bring forward legislation to protect access to cash and ensure that the UK’s cash infrastructure is sustainable in the long-term”. The commitment, made in a section of its 2020 Budget on ‘Supporting the most vulnerable’, came just weeks after the UK’s Access to Cash Review panel published a one-year update, asserting that the UK’s cash system has “reached a tipping-point” and warning that it “will collapse without legislation”.
The relationship between the PO and banks made headlines six months ago when one of the country’s biggest banks, Barclays, reversed a decision to stop its customers withdrawing money from the PO network after public pressure.
As all organisations continue to update their plans in the face of coronavirus, the FCA has said that it is “reviewing [its] work plans so that we can delay or postpone activity which is not critical to protecting consumers and market integrity in the short-term. This will allow firms to focus on supporting their customers during this difficult period”.
The FCA has extended the closing date for responses to its open consultation papers to 1 October 2020, and is “rescheduling most other planned work”.