Post Office closures are cutting communities across Scotland off from vital services, with disabled people saying they are paying a premium without regular access to cash point and financial services.
A lack of access to convenient postal and banking services pose a significant challenge for vulnerable people, charities said, who have to shell out to use their nearest service, and risk losing control of their finances without regular access to cash.
An “alarming rate” of branches have closed over the course of the Covid-19 crisis, a union for post office workers said, with at least 82 franchises axed across Scotland since March 2020.
The House of Commons logged a net loss of 51 Scottish branches between March 2020 and March 2021. In June, SPAR Scotland wholesaler CJ Lang pulled another 31 in-store counters from its stores.
The Post Office said that many of the closures are temporary, and it has installed outreach services in areas in need.
But three disabled people living in rural Scotland, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their identity, said their local outreach service is too unreliable to depend on.
“My urgently needed medication was sent to me by first class post, but did not arrive in time,” one person said. “I had to spend a small fortune getting a taxi to the pharmacist to collect it myself.”
“I live in a remote rural part of Scotland, so we are lucky if we get a letter delivery two or three times a week,” another added. “For example, my booster vaccination appointment letter did not arrive until after the date of the vaccination.”
One wheelchair user said they “rely on friends and family” to get to the nearest counter.
“I use a wheelchair and don’t drive, so it is really hard to get to a post office independently,” they added.
North East Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain witnessed the closure of four Post Offices across North East Fife last year. She said “temporary and mobile services just aren’t cutting it,” and insisted people need “sustainable and reliable services”.
“Many people rely on Post Offices to access cash, and to sort out their pensions and benefits. Those are amongst the people most severely impacted,” she said.
“At the same time, we have seen other services associated with Post Offices also impacted, such as PayPoint which provides an essential service for people to heat their homes and pay bills.”
Post Office: A Lifeline
Age Scotland has also urged the government to intervene and protect post offices, which is the “last remaining place to safeguard in-person banking service access” for older people.
It estimates almost half a million people over 60 don’t use the internet, with the highest numbers in the most deprived areas.
“In remote and island communities, the post office is a lifeline,” Adam Stachura, head of policy and communications at the charity, said.
“Without them, many people are at risk of being cut off from vital services and in a more difficult position when it comes to managing their money.
“We’re urging banks and post offices to consider the needs of all their customers and not leave older people out in the cold.”
“We believe that the government and Post Office Ltd should be doing much more to address the alarming rate with which post offices are closing across the whole of the UK,” National Federation of Subpostmasters CEO Calum Greenhow said.
“Research shows that the closure of a post office, especially when this occurs in rural areas, negatively impacts the community and its local economy.”
Limited branch access “excludes” disabled people from banking and postal services, Disability Equality Scotland said.
“Our members have reported being unable to access banking and postal services as a result of branch closures and services moving online,” a spokesperson said.
“This prevents disabled people from accessing essential supplies and vital services in their local communities, especially those who do not have internet access, or can’t travel to another branch in a different location due to inaccessible transport and infrastructure.”
A Post Office spokesman said: “The numbers at 31 March 2021, almost a year ago, reflect the impact of the pandemic which has been variable across the country and continues to impact the entire retail sector.
“We are preparing to open the first like for like, permanent replacements for the CJ Lang [Spar] closures announced last summer with the first opening in Allanton in March 2022.
“While there are always challenges in managing a network of this size, we have ensured 90 per cent of the population is within one mile of an open Post Office, and 99 per cent within three miles.”
Priced Out is an investigation by The Ferret, co-published with The Herald, exploring the impact of – and reasons that lie behind – the cost of living crisis in Scotland.
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