Pensioners left penniless by break-down

ELDERLY villagers have been left penniless after Post Office problems cut them off from their pensions.

A problem with card-reading kit has meant users of the part-time Post Office outreach services for Longhorsley, Scots Gap, Stannington and Whalton have been unable to access their accounts.

Many of those who use the service are unable to travel to branches in other communities and, in some cases, residents have faced more than a week without cash at one of the busiest times of the year.

Eighty-five-year-old Emily Richardson, who lives in Longhorsley, is one of those hardest hit as she is too scared to visit Morpeth to collect her pension after her purse was stolen in the town two years ago.

“We have had a lot of problems in the past with the machines breaking down and this is happening too often,” she said.

“It is quite a long time to be without money. You can’t pay your bills or go to the shop for anything and people want extra money out at this time of year for Christmas.

“I can’t understand why they can’t have a replacement machine, especially when this happens quite regularly.

“I’m 85 and I have no family here to help me. I don’t want to have to carry money in Morpeth because I had my purse stolen two years ago and it frightens me. I’m even frightened just to go to the bank to pay in a cheque or to stand in a queue.

“It is difficult for me to get to Morpeth anyway because I would have to go on the bus and I’m not 100 per cent fit. I find it quite hard to walk to the bus and I can’t do steps, but a lot of the buses have high steps.”

Mrs Richardon was last able to draw money on Tuesday, November 29, and, while she has been told that the machine was being fixed yesterday, she will have to wait until Friday before the service returns to Longhorsley.

She is also worried that if problems persist, people who can access other branches will do so, putting the village service in jeopardy.

“People with transport are saying they are sick of this and they aren’t going to bother with it any more and just use the post office in Morpeth, but this worries me because if the service isn’t used, they might close it and then how are old people like me going to manage?” she said.

“There are a lot of people my age in the village and we need this service.”

Fellow Longhorsley resident Edith Atkinson, 80, has similar fears.

“You can overlook this problem once, but not when it is happening a lot,” she said.

“We hope the machine will be working on Friday, but there is no guarantee.

“I have no vehicle to get out so I rely on this post office. If I can’t get my money and I have bills to pay I have to take it from the gas or the window-cleaning money so I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul. I was a farm worker so I haven’t got much money and I need my pension.

“It’s Christmas time so we need extra money and we also need to buy extra food for the winter and have things in in case we get bad weather and can’t get out.

“The big worry is that if people get sick of the problems and stop using the service we will lose it. I don’t know what we would do without it. My husband is blind and it is important that we have this service in the village, and most importantly, that it works.”

Local county councillor Glen Sanderson has been trying to resolve the issue, but he is frustrated at the lack of service.

“I have had so many calls about this because older people haven’t been able to get their money,” he said.

“When the village post office was closed two years ago we were promised that people would not suffer and those people who didn’t have access to cars wouldn’t be disadvantaged, but that is precisely what has happened.

“A week is a long time for somebody to go without money. When people went last Friday they couldn’t get their money so they went back on Monday, which was a very slippery, frosty morning, then on Tuesday. Nobody said when the machine would be fixed.

“It isn’t just Longhorsley that has suffered. People in Scots Gap, Stannington and Whalton are having the same problem because the same machine is used for those services.”

He added: “It is basically impossible to get hold of anybody who will take responsibility for this. The whole of the management structure seems to have just disappeared.

“My other concern is that if the service degenerates to such an extent that people give up and stop using it, then the Post Office could say that because of a lack of use it will have to close.”

Post Office spokeswoman Marie Gray said: “We apologise to customers who may have been affected by a technical problem with the Longhorsley Post Office service, which has resulted in it offering a limited number of services. We are working to rectify the problem as soon as possible.”