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Post Office accused of using ‘loophole’ to ‘stealth close’ branches without consulting communities

09 Apr 2024 5 minute read
A Post Office branch

Emily Price

A “loophole” in Post Office policy is allowing the company to carry out “stealth closures” of branches without consulting with communities first, according to a Welsh MP.

A Citizens Advice analysis in 2022 revealed that there has been a sharp increase in the number of  “temporarily closed” Post Offices with the trend particularly severe in rural areas.

Under Post Office policy, the government owned company must consult on the permanent closure of a branch.

But Post Office Limited are able to determine what is and isn’t a permanent closure.

The Post Office says it has recently removed the use of the term “temporary closed” from its Principles of Community Engagement because it was “confusing”.

Shut

Research indicates that many “temporary” closures last a significant period of time – with more than 8 in 10 shut for over a year.

In Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, the Treharris, Deri and Pantygallog Post Office branches were all closed following the retirement or resignation of sub-postmasters.

The Post Office branch in Treharris has been closed since 2019.

Local MP, Gerald Jones, says the closures are “cynical stealth closures” by the Post Office.

He has made calls for the UK Government to change the rules, forcing the Post Office to consult with communities on closures unless there are immediate plans to recruit a new sub-postmaster for the branch.

In a letter to Minister of State in the Department for Business and Trade, Kevin Hollinrake, Mr Jones said: “The so-called Principals of Community Engagement commit Post Office Limited to consulting on the permanent closure of a Post Office branch.

“But by designating closures as ‘temporary’ they are able to quietly shut a branch and avoid any consultation with the community or their elected representatives able to express an opinion.

“Indeed, representations to Post Office Limited- wholly owned by taxpayers – often go without meaningful response. This is wholly unacceptable; our communities deserve better.”

Accessible

The UK Government and Post Office Ltd’s publicly stated intention is for the network to be convenient and easily accessible to everyone.

Citizens Advice findings confirm post office closures and outreach services make it significantly harder for people to access services.

The UK Government says it allows the Post Office to operate providing it fulfils the access criteria to ensure that services remain within three miles of the public.

It has provided the Post Office with over £2.5 billion in funding over the past decade, with a further £628 million being provided between 2022 and 2025.

The government says the Post Office network is not in decline as more post offices have opened last year than have closed.

However, Gerald Jones says the Post Office is avoiding “scrutiny of their decisions”.

The Labour MP said: “In Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney alone, three Post Office branches have closed in the last five years with no plans by bosses to replace them. The Post Office in Treharris has been closed since 2019.

“As we’ve seen from research from Citizens Advice, the vast majority of temporarily closed Post Offices closed permanently.

“Currently, Post Office Limited has sole jurisdiction to decide if a closure is temporary or permanent. By simply designating a closure as ‘temporary’, Post Office Limited can avoid any scrutiny of their decisions, or community input. That cannot be right.

“I’m today calling for the UK Government to change the rules to force Post Office Limited to consult in circumstances where a sub-postmaster retires or resigns and there are no immediate plans to recruit a replacement.

“This will ensure that communities across the UK have a say in the future of their Post Offices.”

‘Replacement’

A Post Office spokesperson said: “There have been no stealth closures of Post Offices in Merthyr Tydfil or across the UK. When there are changes to branches in our network, Post Office consults on access to its products and services in the area following our Principles of Community Engagement, as agreed with Citizens Advice.

“We recently updated these Principles, in partnership with Citizens Advice, and removed the use of the term ‘Temporary Closed’.  The term was confusing. For example, when a replacement branch is not readily identifiable and/or local demographics change due to other branches opening in an area, evolving customer demand or other similar changes, the term was no longer accurate of the status of that closed branch.

“Consequently, we recognised the need to replace it and enhance the clarity of our communications on branch closures. To provide greater clarity for customers we now communicate that a closure is permanent, or one in which we are seeking a replacement.

“Post Office remains committed to continually improving how it communicates branch changes to local communities.  It is also committed to enhancing the sustainability the network, working to deliver the right branch in the right location for its customers, Postmasters and partners.”

The UK Government was invited to comment.


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David Smith
David Smith
1 month ago

Think about The Horizon scandal and ask yourself if the PO can be expected to act ethically and honourably at all times. Keep up your campaigning Mr Jones.

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