THE GOVERNMENT t this week has announced £370m of funding for the Post Office for the period April 2018 to March 2021. This will secure the future of the Post Office and enable it to continue to invest in its network, products and meeting the changing needs of customers.
The funding announcement comes as the Post Office reached the important milestone of having moved into profit in 2017, for the first time in 16 years.
This indicates that the Post Office is well on its way to becoming a sustainable and successful business and less reliant on government subsidies.
Ben Lake MP said: “This investment is welcome news for rural communities at a time where Post Office branches are becoming more and more important with the contraction of the bank branch network.”
But whilst the UK Government appears to be investing in the Post Office, Ceredigion pensioners using their local branches to collect pension payments have recently received correspondence from the Government’s Department of Work and Pensions asking them to alter their future payment arrangements so that their state pension is paid directly into their bank accounts rather than from the Post Office.
The Department of Work and Pensions is keen to encourage all pensions and benefit claimants who are able to open a bank account to do so and enjoy the greater transactional services these offer, such as direct debit facilities and the option to have a debit card or cheque book. But the DWP has recognised that certain groups remain unable to access such services. The Department has also confirmed that although payment into a bank, building society or credit union account is the preferred way pension and benefits are paid, it is not compulsory.
Elin Jones AM said: “It is not compulsory for pensioners to receive their pension payments directly to a bank account, and I would urge everyone who currently use their local Post Office branch to collect their pension to continue to do so if they wish.
“Local post offices form the heart of so many local communities, with many people relying on their local branch in order to access important services.
Ben Lake MP said: “Whilst the vast majority of pensions and benefits are paid directly into recipients’ bank accounts these days, many older pensioners continue to prefer to collect their pension over the counter at their local Post Office, and the Post Office Card Account enables them to do this. Offering these services at the Post Office also retains footfall and generates income for the local branches. It is regrettable that the Government are encouraging pensioners to abandon the services provided by the Post Office.”
In response the Post Office stated: “99 per cent of customers of UK banks can access their accounts at local Post Office branches. The Post Office is reassuring customers that they will still be able to visit the branch for cash withdrawals with the added benefits of being able to undertake other transactions such as cash and cheque deposits. For those customers who are not able to open a bank account, Post Office Card Accounts will remain an option for them.”
Newtown: Online threat to ‘use of firearms at a school’ lead to swift police action
DYFED-POWYS POLICE was made aware this morning, the force said, of “utterly irresponsible and scaremongering posts” on Facebook, suggesting that the authors of the posts were going to use firearms at a school in the Newtown area.
The posts were by individuals local to Newtown, and police acted swiftly to address this, which resulted in the arrest of three local men, aged 20, 21 and 27 on suspicion of malicious communications and public order. As part of the initial response schools were also given advice to be vigilant.
A spokesman said: “Understandably the posts caused serious concern in the area, and unfortunately the subsequent rumours led to misunderstandings. This is turn led to calls to the police alleging there was a man with a firearm seen outside Newtown High School.
“Police had to respond appropriately to these calls based on the threat allegedly posed, and a firearms unit was sent to the school. We can confirm that there was no man at the school, and when we have delved further into the detail of the calls, it has transpired that they were as a result of the rumours circulating, and not based on first-hand accounts.
“Police have also carried out thorough searches as a result of the arrests, and no weapons have been recovered. The local Neighbourhood Policing Team will also be present at the school at home time to reassure and inform parents, pupils and staff.
“We hope this clarification will reassure the community of Newtown that there is no threat to schools in the area, and the matter was dealt with seriously and swiftly. We would also appeal to everyone to stop sharing the posts and any associated rumours, in order to prevent any further unsubstantiated fear and alarm in the area.”
The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister
THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.
The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.
Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.
Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.
He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.
Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.
“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.
“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.
“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”
WASPI unaffected by appeal’s failure
A CAMPAIGN group for women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age has increased from 60-65, lost an appeal against a decision to deny them compensation for lost pension income.
Backto60 brought two test cases to the High Court last year when those cases were lost the group appealed. The Court of Appeal released its judgement rejecting the appeal on Monday, September 14.
The group’s campaign calls for a reinstatement of the age of 60 for women’s state pensions and compensation of the pension women have missed out on.
The Court found making the state pension age the same for men and women did not constitute unlawful discrimination.
WASPI CAMPAIGN UNCHANGED
The case’s failure will not affect the far better known and more widely-supported Women Against State Pensions Injustice (WASPI) campaign.
WASPI has long campaigned on the issues regarding the increase in the state pension age for women. They argue that setting aside any claim of discrimination, the UK Government failed in its duty to inform affected women adequately of the changes to the state pension age and the effect those changes would have on their pensions.
A statement issued by WASPI after the Backto60 legal challenge failed said: “Many women will be disappointed today at the judgement from the High Court.
“Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) will continue to campaign for what we believe is achievable and affordable. Compensation for women who have been unfairly disadvantaged with a rapid increase to their State Pension age (SPa).
“WASPI is not opposed to the equalisation of the SPa with men but it was done without adequate notice, leaving no time to make alternative arrangements. Women were informed directly some 14 years after the SPa was first changed, many only given 18 months’ notice, of up to a six-year increase, many others were not informed at all. This left their retirement plans shattered.
“The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is currently considering six sample cases of maladministration out of the thousands of complaints made to the DWP by WASPI women.”
Former Conservative Pensions Minister, Baroness Roz Altmann, said: “When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the Government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004 about their State Pension, which failed to highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60. These official letters failed to highlight that these women’s pension would not start being paid at age 60. It merely informed them what State Pension they might receive when they reached State Pension Age, but they did not tell them what that age would be!
“Receiving a letter from the Pensions Department about their State Pension, which did not urge them to check what their State Pension Age would be, may have lulled them into a false sense of security that they would receive it from age 60.
“This looks like maladministration.”
During the election campaign last year, Boris Johnson pledged to place ‘fresh eyes’ on the issue and said he felt sympathetic to the WASPI campaigners. Asked on Tuesday about the progress of those promised considerations, he failed to answer.
THE APPEAL ISSUE
The main issue in the appeal was whether the changes to the state pension age brought in by Parliament from 1995 onwards, unlawfully discriminated against women. Backto60 argued, amongst other things, women born in the 1950s were less likely to have contributed to the state pension scheme or were disproportionately in lower-paid jobs than men.
The Pensions Act 1995 provided that a woman born before 6 April 1950 would still receive her state pension at age 60 but a woman born after that date would receive her pension on a specified date when she was aged between 60 and 65, depending on her date of birth. The Pensions Acts 2007, 2011 and 2014 then accelerated the move to age 65 as the state pension age for women and raised the state pension age for some men and women to 66, 67 or 68 depending on their date of birth.
Successive UK Governments made changes to address the massively-rising cost of state pensions.
When the state pension age was originally set, both pension ages were fixed at 65. When revised in 1940, women’s pension age was dropped to 60. At the time those ages were fixed, life expectancy meant the state pension was likely to be paid out for only a few years after retirement age. The lower age was fixed at 60 for women to reflect their then-dependence on a single male breadwinner in the family and the prevailing age difference between married couples.
In the post-war period, life expectancy increased, first gradually and then with increasing speed.
The boom in average life expectancy means the state pension is the largest single drain on the welfare budget – taking £111bn of it in the year 2018-19 (DWP figures). In comparison, payments for unemployment benefits totalled £2bn.
The UK Defence budget is around £28bn
In normal circumstances, the claims brought to the Court would have been barred due to the delay in bringing them. Time was extended to bring the claims. The question of the delay was, however, relevant only to the discretion whether to grant relief if unlawful discrimination was proved.
The long delay in bringing the claims made it impossible to fashion any practical remedy. The Court noted unchallenged expert evidence that the cost of reinstating pensions would exceed £200bn – more than seven times the total defence budget and around the same as the whole of the health and education budgets combined (Figures Office of Budget Responsibility).
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