Above: Aged and Community Services Western Australia CEO, Stephen Kobelke.
By Stephen Easton
Personal cheques are on the way out, and their declining use poses a dilemma for many older Australians and aged care providers.
According to the CEO of Aged and Community Services Western Australia (ACSWA), Stephen Kobelke, phasing out personal cheques is likely to impact older Australians most of all and for this reason, they must remain in use until at least 2025.
“People who are frail aged and use cheques as their primary payment method would have the potential to lose confidence in their ability to manage their financial affairs and become more dependent on others if this payment method was phased out,” Mr Kobelke said in a statement released last week.
The ACSWA statement also refers to ABS figures from 2009 showing that only about half of people aged 60 and over had used a computer in the 12 months preceding the survey.
“These statistics,” ACSWA contends, “add weight to the argument that individuals without home internet access would find it difficult to access other forms of payment, including Direct Credit, Credit Cards and BPay.”
“We are also concerned that direct care staff may be put in difficult situations when providing in-home services such as bill paying and shopping,” Mr Kobelke added.
“Current NGO policy regarding risk management disallows support workers from having access to a client’s debit card, credit card and cash. However, should cheques no longer be an option, the situation for individuals to provide care staff with large amounts of cash or access to their debit card PIN may become more prevalent.
“This would then put personal safety at risk for seniors who would have little choice but to provide financial details over the phone or draw out large amounts of cash.”
According to the ACSWA statement, Mr Kobelke’s comments follow the Australian Payments Clearing Association’s (APCA) community consultation process on the issue, which closed on 12 August, “and its assertion that they are in rapid decline”.
In its own press release, APCA explains it undertook the public consultation process, “…to ensure that as cheques become scarcer and inevitably more difficult to use, community payment needs continue to be met”.
APCA chief executive officer, Chris Hamilton, said the statistics clearly showed that cheque use was in irreversible decline, and the banking industry’s payment systems self-regulator was now well aware that many older Australians want to keep using them.
“It’s quite clear that there’s a high level of concern out there amongst people who deal with the aged members of our community,” he said.
“Our intention is to produce a ‘results’ or ‘proposals’ document later this year, where we’ll try to address any concerns that have been raised. We recognise that [phasing out cheques] is a long term, evolutionary process.
“We have to think about it as not an issue of whether the cheque system is going to be closed down or not, just how to deal with the statistical reality. It doesn’t mean people have to stop using their cheques tomorrow – I think people will find that increasingly when they write their cheques, people don’t want to receive them.
Mr Hamilton said there were many alternatives to personal cheques but there was no “golden answer or silver bullet” that would directly replace the unpopular pieces of paper, adding that the consultation process was about “seeing which ones match up with which contexts”.
Regarding the risk management issue for aged care providers and their clients raised by Mr Kobelke, The APCA chief said that was another difficult issue, yet to be resolved.
“I can see that problem and I think that’s a legitimate one,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing we strike in a lot of places. For example, under Medicare there is a statutory requirement to pay, in some circumstances, by cheque. The challenge is how to meet those risk management concerns.”