Half a million ‘vulnerable’ Aussies to be issued debit cards amid Covid-19

Apr 29, 2020
More than 100,000 Australians still rely on passbooks and do not have a card linked to their account. Source: Getty.

Banks will issue more than half a million debit cards to customers who do not have them, in a bid to help vulnerable and isolated Australians who may be self-isolating or unable to leave the house amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

There are approximately around 600,000 Australians who still rely on passbooks and branch visits to manage their cash, or who have a transaction account with no linked debit card. This means they can pay for goods or services using cash or EFTPOS, but they cannot shop online or over the telephone.

The majority of these customers are over 70 and, with the government urging all older Australians to stay at home as much as possible due to the risk of coronavirus, and many retailers refusing to accept cash due to the potential risk of transmission, those customers who do not have debit cards may not be able to pay for what they need.

On Wednesday, the Australian Banking Association and Customer Owned Banking Association announced that they will be fast-tracking the issuance of debit cards after the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) granted regulatory relief.

While the cards will be supplied free of charge, the Australian Banking Association (ABA) said customers are under no obligation to actually activate or use the cards if they do not wish to. However CEO Anna Bligh said the move is vital to ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to banking services amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Paying for goods and services is critical for every single person in our community and will continue regardless of the level of lockdown in our community,” Bligh said in a statement. “The industry has recognised that as a result of the Government’s social distancing advice, particularly for older Australians, we must provide additional options for people to do their banking and pay for goods and services.

“It might surprise some in the community that there are many thousands of customers who are using a passbook or savings and cheque accounts that have no debit card.”

The announcement was welcomed by the Council on the Ageing (COTA) with Chief Executive Ian Yates thanking the banks for “stepping up to take care of their more vulnerable customers in this time of need”.

He said: “A significant number of older Australians still operate passbook accounts with which they withdraw cash at a bank branch, and do not have any card linked to that account. During the Covid-19 period these people have found purchasing goods and services difficult when some retailers have stopped accepting cash.

“Agreeing to activate a debit card sent to you by your bank, or responding to an invitation from your bank to issue a card, will ensure you maintain control of your affairs whilst giving you more options to spend your money during COVID-19.”

Eligible customers will receive their cards in the mail in the coming weeks or be contacted directly by their bank or financial institution. There will be no costs associated with the cards.

The ABA is comprised of 22 member banks while COBA is made up of 64 credit unions, building societies and mutual banks.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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