Watchdog survey over post offices

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The majority of users (81 per cent) would be concerned if large Post Office branches moved away from town and city centres, watchdog Consumer Futures said today.

The findings come as the Post Office begins the process of consulting over the next two years on a range of changes to flagship Crown post offices across the UK, including the Wisbech Bridge Street office.

Over the coming year, the Post Office will convert 70 Crown branches to franchise post offices, which are likely to be hosted in retailers such as national high street retailers, supermarkets, and local independent retailers.

Those using big branches in town and city centres – next to where they work, shop or live – do so regularly with nearly 1 in 5 people (18 per cent) visiting at least once a week. 92 per cent of branch users say a town centre location is important for them.

1 in 4 people with disabilities (25 per cent) and 1 in 5 of pensioners (19 per cent) go to the Post Office at least once a week. A quarter of pensioners (24 per cent) do so to collect their pensions and benefits.

Nearly half of pensioners (47 per cent) said that a post office located out of town would make it difficult for them to use it. One in 5 pensioners (21 per cent) would need to rely on a friend or relative to provide transport to an out of town post office.

Consumer Futures is calling on the Post Office to commit to retain main post offices in town centres, with a ‘town centre first’ approach that would require Post Office Ltd to seek town centre premises before it considers an out-of-town-centre location, for example an out-of-town hypermarket.

Andy Burrows, Head of Post Offices at Consumer Futures said: “Consumers value and trust the Post Office and large post office branches moving to out of town locations would mean considerable inconvenience and disruption.

“Moving post offices out of town centres would mean more journeys for people who would normally go to the post office in their lunch hour. Elderly and disabled people would face a particular problem in getting to a Post Office to collect their pension or benefits. Small businesses and frequent users would have to make additional journeys in order to use the post office.

“Post Office branches must provide high quality services from locations that people can get to easily and we are calling for a ‘town centre first’ approach with Post Office Ltd seeking town centre premises before it considers an out-of-town-centre location.

“The forthcoming changes to branches over the next few years have the potential to bring improvements but it is key that the Post Office gets off on the right foot and commits to flagship branches remaining in town and city centres.”

Martin Blackwell, Chief Executive of the Association of Town & City Management

“We welcome this important contribution to the debate surrounding the future of our postal services. It is essential to the aims of building an inclusive society that Post Offices remain accessible to everyone via a range of different modes of transport and not just to those with cars.

“Furthermore, retaining Post Offices on the high street strengthens the chances for the success of other businesses through increased visits. This insight from Consumer Futures reminds us of the importance of ensuring our communities are sustainable.”