Inland Revenue cheque policy change upsets elderly

Trying to use a cash machine in Wellsford can be a nightmare for Colleen Mason.

A Tomarata senior is appalled that the Inland Revenue Department is refusing to accept cheques from March next year.

Colleen Mason, 83, says she cannot believe that with New Zealand’s current focus on mental health, this stressful situation is being pushed on to so many people.

The growing aversion to cheques to complete transactions has recently twice forced Colleen – who does not use a computer herself – to ask her son to complete payments for her electronically.

“In order to repay him, I needed to arrange somebody to take me to Wellsford, get my walker out of the car boot and wait while I withdraw money from the money machine,” she says.

Colleen says in addition to the 30-minute drive, it is a struggle to find parking near the machine and walking is challenging for her, following injuries sustained after falling and being hit by a car.  

She adds that withdrawing money in full public view could potentially be dangerous for somebody who is elderly and frail.

Colleen says in future, she could perhaps pay back her son with a cheque, though wonders how much longer cheques will be usable at all. And she says that many elderly people will still find this process undesirable, especially those with no close family or those who do not want their financial business to be known to their family.

“After years of hard work – and for many with no knowledge of the computer world – why, oh, why would this law be pushed onto elderly people when so many are experiencing deteriorating health and feeling vulnerable in a rapidly changing world,” she says.

“Regard for the elderly and disabled people has been ignored.”

IRD spokesperson Gay Cavill declined to comment on Colleen’s specific case, but confirmed that from March next year the IRD will no longer accept payments by cheque from customers “who are able to use alternative payment options”.

Ms Cavill did not elaborate on what those alternative payment options might include, but said an exceptions process was currently being worked out.

IRD deputy commissioner Sharon Thompson says New Zealanders are already embracing the digital world and the IRD wants to do everything it can to help customers switch seamlessly to cheque alternatives.

“Cheques are part of a paper-based world and don’t mesh with the increasingly digital world we now operate in. The number of cheques being used is spiralling down and will continue to trend that way. Electronic payments are simpler, easier and safer,” she says.

“IRD already has a number of alternative ways for people to pay their tax bill. We want to help as many as possible shift to those before the technology used to process cheques comes to the end of its working life next year.”

Age Concern spokesperson Natasha Muir says the organisation had prior warning from IRD about the no cheque rule and has helped the department with ideas for promotion and education of other banking options.

“This will be an uncertain time for some people as they make the change. We suggest they ask family, friends, someone they trust or their local Age Concern who are happy to help,” she says.

“We must remember that older people are adaptable given the right information. Many have seen huge changes over their lifetimes and are no strangers to learning new ways to do things.”

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