§ Mrs. Helen Clark
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what evaluation he has made of the social benefits to(a) individuals and (b) local communities of direct payment of benefits and pensions through (i) Post Office accounts and (ii) bank accounts; 
(2) what assessment he has made of the relative (a) availability and (b) accessibility of (i) banks and (ii) post offices in relation to the payment of benefits and pensions; 
(3) what assessment he has made of the effect on (a) urban and (b) rural regeneration of the policy on direct payment of benefits and pensions. 
§ Mr. Pond
The move to Direct Payment and the introduction of universal banking services has resulted in a number of benefits for individuals and the communities in which they live, particularly in terms of increasing customer choice, helping to address financial exclusion and improving access to banking for all.
The new arrangements ensure a more modern, efficient and reliable service that increases customer choice, provides better value for the taxpayer, cuts fraud, and boosts financial inclusion. More customers are now paid into an account than by order book or girocheque.
Customers have more choice about where and when they collect their money and there are a range of accounts that people can access at Post Office branches. There are a number of advantages to having a bank or building society account and over 85 per cent, of DWP customers already have access to a suitable account with the figure rising to 90 per cent. for pensioners. But this currently leaves around 3.5 million adults in the UK without access to a bank account and not able to take advantage of, for example, the savings to utility bills that come through making payments by Direct Debit from an account. Direct Payment will help spread financial inclusion by increasing the number of people who have bank accounts and giving them opportunities to benefit—this includes the new easy to operate basic bank accounts.
New banking services, including the introduction of the Post Office card account, are central to the Post Office management's strategy for the network. For example, 20 million bank customers can now access their current accounts electronically in Post Office 1089W branches. Banking at Post Offices has enabled banking to return to many rural areas where the last bank branch was closed many years ago. It has also introduced banking services into many deprived urban areas for the first time.
The Government are providing significant investment for the Post Office network—some £2 billion in total during the five year period from April 2003, including £450 million to support the rural network until 2006. In addition the Government have instructed the Post Office to prevent avoidable closures in the rural Post Office network.