But face-to-face services are still essential for those who cannot get online or for certain aspects such as presenting documentation or verifying identification. The report highlights that older, poorer and other vulnerable consumers, who regularly use the post office, do not always have access to online services and would benefit most from greater access to government services at their local branch. Consumer Focus Post surveyed local councils and all NI Executive Departments to see what services they provide through the post office network.
The research showed there is scope for local government departments and local councils in Northern Ireland to improve on the range of central government services which are currently available.
The watchdog would like to see moves to offer wider services, such as Driving Licence renewals, which are currently available in selected post offices in GB; and post offices transformed into local and devolved government hubs providing an alternative access point for customers wishing to access government services
Kellin McCloskey, Head of Policy at Consumer Focus Post said:
‘Making the post office network the front office for government services could deliver benefits for both consumers and government. In this increasingly digital age post offices can help bridge the “digital divide” between the government and consumers who can’t, or don’t want to, access services online. This is particularly important in providing essential support for more vulnerable consumers and those without access to the internet. Our findings highlight a golden opportunity for public bodies to work with post offices to improve access to services, support consumers and make the post office network more sustainable.’ The report recommends that the NI Executive takes a strong lead in encouraging public sector organisations to identify services that could be delivered through the post office network. It also suggests further consideration be given to how post offices can deliver local government services, particularly given the forthcoming implementation of the Review of Public Administration and reduction of the number of councils in NI from 26 to 11. Providing government services through the post office network would be a major opportunity to offer a much greater reach for government and the greater convenience consumers want and need.
Launching the report, Chris Lyttle MLA said:
“This report must serve as a call to action for MLAs, MPs and councillors to understand how we can maximise our post offices for the benefit of consumers and to ensure that, as we deliver more services online, we do not leave anyone behind, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities”.
Michael McArdle, President, Northern Ireland Region of the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP)
“Subpostmasters across Northern Ireland welcome the publication of this report as an important opportunity to focus our politicians’ minds on the opportunities for post offices to deliver far more devolved and local government information, services and transactions to the public. Post offices occupy a unique and trusted place in the heart of urban and rural communities alike across Northern Ireland; and allowing access to more services from the NI Executive and local councils will help give our post offices a more sustainable future, and make life easier for the public.”
Kevin Seller, Head of Government Services, Post Office Ltd.
“Post Office welcomes the publication of A Front Office for Government Services. We play a vital role in enabling people to access key government services and have a real desire to increase the amount of work we do in this area. A more modern, sustainable Post Office with an unrivalled infrastructure and reputation for trust, makes us an increasingly attractive channel for key government and local government services in Northern Ireland.”
Caption: Chris Lyttle MLA helps Rick Hill (Chair) and Kellin McCloskey (Head of Postal Policy NI) of Consumer Focus Post launch the report ‘A front office for government services’ in Parliament BuildingsNotes to editors:
· The report ‘A front office for government services’ is available online.
· The report will be / was launched at an event in Parliament Buildings, sponsored by Chris Lyttle MLA, John Dallat MLA and Adrian McQuillan MLA on Monday 30th April 9.30am – 11.30am
· Consumer Focus Post is the postal consumer champion in Northern Ireland, working to ensure a fair deal for all postal consumers in Northern Ireland. We believe that Post Offices are an important part of our local communities and that Post Offices can act as a front office for Government in terms of supporting access to public services.
1. In 2004/05, government services accounted for nearly half (£576 million) of all revenue received by the post office. By 2009/10 this had declined to £167 million – only around a fifth of all Post Office network revenue.
2. The researchers asked local council for information about services they currently deliver through post offices, surveyed all Executive Departments and NDPBs what services they provide through the Post Office Network, and commissioned desk research to consider how government services are delivered through the post office in six other countries.
3. The services currently available include, renewing car tax; having a passport application checked and sent; and allowing people to receive pension and benefit payments through the post office card account.
4. Some examples of services offered through the post office in other international countries include:
Switzerland – Post offices in Switzerland are a hub for local government information notices, newspapers and newsletters.
Republic of Ireland: Issuing of birth and marriage certificates, payment of fines for traffic offences, issuing of land registry documents, applications for disabled parking permits.
Australia: Application for travel cards for older people, application for and payment of birth, death and marriage certificates, payment of government housing loans, business registration renewals
Italy: Payment of waste collection, application and renewals of residence permits, issuing of land registry documents