No more standing in ragged queues at the Post Office. State benefits are now paid directly into a nominated bank/savings account. But obtaining enough ID to satisfy the bank that you haven’t set up a joint account with Osama Bin Laden can be a problem. Especially for those on the edge of society’s radar. But presuming to have sorted all that out, there is no denying it: having a bank account is inclusive, reduces social stigma and is normalising, even if your heart does beat faster when the statement drops through the letter box.

And therein lies another problem. Social care practitioners aren’t always the best people to support others with basic money management. I know this. I only have to look at our petty cash for the evidence. Some of us may even have chosen this line of work in the hope we wouldn’t have to add up or do too many unpleasant things involving numbers.

But experts or not, we need to assist some service users in becoming familiar with managing their new  accounts – which can be stressful for all concerned.

Yet in the case of one service user, after getting through the dark cloud of using plastic cards and remembering PIN numbers there was just one long silver lining. So long as the ATM machines were willing to cough up the readies he was perfectly content to keep pushing those digits. Suddenly the machine became less willing and he came to us clutching his bank statement. The overdraft charges amounted to roughly 25 per cent of his weekly expendable income. Benefits, indeed – at least for the bank and its shareholders.

I phoned two banks with a general inquiry. Do they offer a current account that provides protection from overdrawing and thus incurring fees? The first said “no – hey, this is a ‘bizniz’ not social work”. The second bank had a representative at its call centre in Bangalore who was charm personified. She assured me that my client’s money would be safe with them. Hmmm.

I’m still as confused as ever. Yet there’s a clear message. Shop around then check again it’s the best fit for their needs. Outsourcing call centres to India to increase profit margins is one thing. Making money by exploiting the most vulnerable people in our community is quite another.

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.