Millions of people have been told to self-isolate to keep safe during the coronavirus pandemic. But as we adapt to the ‘new normal’, the lockdown has thrown a spotlight on the challenges staying home means for managing everyday banking needs.
Online and mobile app banking may seem like the natural solution to managing your finances during the lockdown, but not everyone can jump into the digital world at the drop of a hat. Which? research of 1,000 UK adults shows that a third have concerns about managing their money digitally. Of this group, 35% are significantly more likely to be over the age of 65, or have some form of vulnerability, no experience of using the internet or only basic web skills.
Here, Which? explains how banks are improving telephone banking access, what non-online options are available and how to let your bank know if you want someone else to manage your financial affairs. Plus, find out what Post Office services are now available to help self-isolating customers access their money.
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The Post Office cash delivery service
The Post Office has launched a cash delivery service to help vulnerable customers, with the help of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Thousands of vulnerable people in England who are shielding at home and receive benefits such as pensions will be able to have cash payments delivered directly to them.
This includes state benefits such as the state pension, which it can deposit directly into Post Office accounts.
The Post Office has repurposed part of its foreign exchange cash delivery business to enable the overnight delivery of cash and meet the demand for the initiative.
The DWP has estimated that nearly 30,000 people in the UK are ‘vulnerable customers’ and has contacted them to offer them the delivery service.
Some banks are also offering cash delivery services, which we have detailed below.
How the delivery service works
The Post Office is the channel for delivering cash, while the DWP sets the parameters for those who are offered the service.
To use the service, you must be a Post Office Card Account holder. If your request is approved, you can receive up to £2,500 and the payment will be delivered to you via the Royal Mail Special Delivery service by 9pm the following day.
If you’re a Post Office Card Account holder and think you need your cash delivered, you should contact the DWP.
Unfortunately as of 11 May, the DWP will no longer allow new benefits or state pension claimants to collect payments using a Post Office Card Account, meaning only existing account holders can use the service. It says the contract is ‘poor value for taxpayers’.
Around 900,000 people across the UK use the Post Office Card Account to collect payments, but over the last three years the DWP has been writing to claimants and encouraging them to have benefits and pensions paid directly into their bank accounts.
If you receive your payment into another bank account, you will still be able to withdraw cash from any Post Office branch, but the delivery service won’t be available to you.
The Post Office says you should contact your bank, building society or credit union to see how they can help.
Post Office account customers can also set up a ‘permanent agent’, which allows a third-party to access your account for you.
This process has been overhauled so that setting up a permanent agent can be completed over the phone instead of requiring you to go to a branch.
If you’re a Post Office Card Account holder, you should contact its helpline on 0345 722 3344 to set this up.
- Find out more: coronavirus cash crisis puts millions at risk
The Post Office Payout Now and Fast Pace
Before the cash delivery initiative, the Post Office had made two of its services available to all UK banks, building societies and credit unions, to make it easier for people who are self-isolating to access cash.
One is Payout Now, a service which sends a voucher by text, email or post to a customer who can share it with a trusted person to withdraw cash at any Post Office branch.
The other is Fast Pace, a scheme that allows a customer to arrange for a trusted person (such as a carer or family member) to collect a pre-authorised cheque and cash it in at a Post Office branch.
To use either scheme, you need to contact your financial institution to see if it has signed up. Then you can arrange to withdraw cash quickly from your normal accounts through any local Post Office branch, with the help of a friend, family member, carer or local support worker.
However, Which? understands that so far just HSBC has signed up to the Fast Pace scheme, and only Santander has signed up to the Payout Now scheme. That said, the situation is changing daily, so contact your provider to see if it’s ready to offer this option.
The Post Office has a network of 11,500 branches, so you should be able to find one near you. However, some may need to close at short notice and some may have reduced opening hours, so double-check online using the branch finder before setting up your request.
Telephone helpline teams
All banks contacted by Which? have said they have been working to deal with increased demand during the pandemic by offering more telephone support.
However, banks warn that they’ve been receiving a flurry of calls, so waiting times may still be lengthy.
Just two banking groups have opened additional helplines for over-70s and vulnerable people: the Lloyds Banking Group (which includes Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland) and Royal Bank (which includes Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest and Ulster Northern Ireland).
We’ve outlined the key ways banks are supporting customers in the table below. You can use the search bar to find your bank.
Non-online banking options
Most banks are encouraging people to use services such as telephone or video banking for money management, as well as cash machines and the Post Office for cash withdrawals.
All banks contacted by Which? have said they’re contacting vulnerable customers where possible to let them know the options available to them for banking offline, and offering support.
A number of banks have launched a cash delivery service including Barclays, NatWest and Tesco Bank.
The table below sets out the non-online options the banks told Which? they could provide to customers. You can use the search bar to find your bank.
Branches are mostly still open for non-self-isolating customers, although opening hours may have changed, and only urgent banking can be done in a branch.
The table below reveals how banks are planning to alter their branch opening times. You can use the search bar to find your bank.
Banks will vary in their approaches to helping people with non-online banking options, though, and some are still in the process of figuring this out. So if you can, check your bank’s website for up-to-date information. We will also update this story as and when new information comes in.
Can someone else do my banking on my behalf?
If you aren’t able to use the service at the Post Office described above or need other services, in some instances a third party can contact your bank on your behalf, if you sign a third-party mandate to give them permission to do so.
This is an agreement in a document that tells your bank or building society that it can accept instructions about your money from a specific named person while you still have mental capacity.
You can speak to your bank to request a third-party mandate arrangement, although it is allowed to refuse your request.
Alternatively, a Property and Financial Affairs Lasting Power of Attorney – which will continue to be valid if you lose capacity – gives your attorney the power to make decisions about your money and property, including:
- managing bank or building society accounts;
- paying bills, or collecting a pension or benefits if necessary;
- selling your home.
Some banks have more relaxed rules around this to help vulnerable people access their money during the pandemic.
The table below sets out what banks told us about their third-party access policy. You can use the search bar to find your bank.
- Find out more: Power of Attorney explained
Why banks are protecting vulnerable customers
Many people will be finding it more difficult to access cash during the coronavirus pandemic, especially those who can’t leave the house under strict self-isolating measures.
For example, some may not be registered on mobile banking apps, or might live in remote locations with poor connectivity. Others can only use cash to pay at certain retailers.
Our research highlights the extent to which people rely on cash.
- Find out more: best and worst banks
Are banks doing enough to help vulnerable people?
Clearly, banks and building societies have made a number of changes to help people with their everyday banking, but some argue that it’s not enough.
Age UK, a charity that helps older people, has written an open letter to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) urging the regulator to help older and vulnerable customers who are struggling to get cash during the pandemic.
It wants the FCA to consider introducing guidance for banks and building societies, so they offer further support for their older customers.
While it says it welcomes the ‘speedy’ and ‘innovative’ action that many banks have already taken to help their customers, it says many people who rely on cash as a default way of paying for essential goods and services may need more help.
Age UK says that the FCA needs to ensure that customer communications are clear that people unable to contact their bank electronically are still welcome to do so by other means.
How the Just Finance Foundation is helping the digitally excluded
Former HSBC Holdings group chairman, Sir Douglas Flint, and former Financial Services Authority chief executive officer, Sir Hector Sants, are spearheading a community service initiative to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the digitally excluded.
Both are trustees of the Just Finance Foundation (JFF), which has set up a COVID Cash Course (CCC) to help the UK’s most marginalised people better understand the new rules and initiatives which have come about as a result of the pandemic.
The JFF says there are many people who can’t get online, and others who can but don’t have the skills or knowledge to find the support they need.
The organisation says it’s training local community workers to deliver information, and signposting both online and over the phone to digitally excluded people.
According to JFF, upwards of 50 community groups have already signed up to deliver the course free of charge and the JFF is now rolling out further training in response to demand.
The course can be tailored to your needs, but it also provides an introduction to the support available, including benefits, job retention schemes, rent and debt advice, budgeting and dealing with worry.
You can register for the course here.
What else do I need to know about banking during the pandemic?
Banks have been helping customers in a number of ways, such as slashing overdraft fees and offering payment holidays on mortgages, credit cards and loans. You can find more details on this in our story detailing the measures put in place to aid your finances during the pandemic.
In the recent Budget, the government confirmed measures to preserve access to cash that will help protect the millions of people across the UK who still rely on notes and coins, thanks to our ‘Freedom to Pay’ campaign, which has been running since 2017.
The government has now committed to introducing new laws to make sure that everyone who needs cash can continue to access it. However, in the midst of the pandemic, this is likely to be put on hold for the time being.
If you need any other help with your finances during the pandemic, you can visit the Which? coronavirus advice guides.
This story was originally published on 3 April 2020 and has been updated since. The latest update was on 12 May with information about the DWP no longer allowing new benefits or state pension claimants to collect payments using a Post Office Card Account and Tesco Bank launching a new cash delivery service.