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Post Offices: Disadvantaged

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what discussions his Department (a) has had and (b) plans to have with (i) RNIB, (ii) RNID, (iii) Age Concern and (iv) Help the Aged on the implications of the transfer of Crown post office services to WH Smith branches for people with disabilities. (154534)

The Department has held no such discussions. Under the Code of Practice agreed with Postwatch, Post Office Ltd. consults with a range of local representatives on the customer service implications of transferring the management of a specific Crown office to a franchise partner. In addition, Postwatch has a statutory duty to protect, promote and develop the interests of all customers of postal services in the UK and a special duty to represent vulnerable groups including the elderly and disabled. Postwatch therefore meets regularly with groups such as Help the Aged, RNIB, Age Concern etc. to understand the concerns affecting the network and report these to Post Office Ltd.

The Post Office Ltd. franchise agreement establishes a contractual obligation for WH Smith to comply with the requirements of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and appropriate health and safety legislation.

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what discussions his Department plans to have with the Post Office Ltd. and WH Smith on changes to chip and pin services in WH Smith branches to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired customers. (154535)

Post office branches located within WH Smith will have the same pin pads as those found in all post office branches across the UK. To assist blind and visually impaired customers, these pin pads have a raised transparent dot on the 5 key, a plastic guard covering the function keys at the top of the pad and raised symbols alongside the clear, enter and cancel keys.

Post Office Ltd. have worked with the RNIB to produce a leaflet entitled “How to use the PIN Pad at a Post Office branch” which is available from RNIB, or from the Post Office on 0845 722 3344. The Post Office card account was one of the first cards in the UK to feature an RNIB recommended cut away indent on its trailing edge to help blind users orient the card. It also has a black arrow to help guide insertion, chosen as “easiest to see” by a group of visually impaired people.

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform whether the agreement between Post Office Ltd. and WH Smith involves WH Smith assuming a responsibility to publish a disability equality scheme and carry out a disability equality impact assessment. (154536)

For the purpose of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, Post Office Ltd. is not considered to be a public authority, does not have specific obligations under the Disability Equality duty and is not required to publish a disability equality scheme.

Disability access is a priority for Post Office Ltd., and they are working with WH Smith to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to ensure reasonable adjustments are made and that the Disability Discrimination Act is complied with. To meet the requirements of the Act, WH Smith carried out audits at all their sites to asses their accessibility for disabled customers and employees and have spent around £1.5 million on improving access to meet the regulations. In addition Post Office Ltd. and WH Smith are signed up to the website register of the access available in all their stores. Customers are encouraged to give feedback on the standards of service and access in WH Smith stores. This feedback will be monitored to ensure that appropriate reasonable adjustments are put in place to ensure disabled access to post office services.

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will make it his policy to ensure that alternative locations for post offices that Royal Mail propose for closure will not result in a deterioration in standards of access for people with disabilities. (155605)

Disability access to Crown post offices is an operational matter for Post Office Ltd. acting in compliance with the requirements of the disability discrimination legislation.