I’ve just had a quick read of Demos’s report published today on pre-payment cards.
Recall that pre-payment cards (also called prepaid cards) are like debit cards, where funds are loaded into an account linked to the card and then spent by the card holder until the balance reaches zero. They can be used to make purchases, set up direct debits or standing orders, and sometimes withdraw cash at ATMs.
There has been an increased usage of pre-payment cards by local authorities, especially in the area of administering Direct Payments in social care, and the Demos report makes recommendations about them being considered for wider use, for example in benefits administration and other forms of public payments.
The topic of pre-payment cards is an emotive one, since it symbolises the concept of the state potentially or actually prescribing what Direct Payments or benefits can be spent on. This is fascinating in itself because, as the report highlights, pre-payment cards are essentially a question of the “nitty-gritty of implementation”.
Of course, I have views on pre-payment cards and whether they should be used. This comes from being pretty heavily involved in two areas of work – Direct Payments implementation and making the Right to Control a reality – and especially from the perspective of service users. I’m painfully familiar with the both the advantages and disadvantages that can arise in making payments to people or trying to integrate several types of payment. As I told the judge, I now know more about the appearances of money laundering than I probably should do.
For those interested in the issues, the Guardian has an article by Ally Fogg which covers a lot of the debate.
The wider point to make, though, is that Demos should be congratulated for at least bringing the topic out into the open. Pre-payments cards are a growing phenomenon and there is a need for an open debate on their merits and demerits, rather than their use growing in the absence of a debate.
It would be great if a space could be created in which this debate can take place that brings together users, public bodies, government and those providing pre-payment cards.