Valentine's Day card changes snub disabled shoppers, says NCC

Out-Law News | 31 Jan 2006 | 12:30 pm | 1 min. read

Card issuers have let down elderly and disabled customers by failing to tell them that they can use alternative cards in order to pay for goods after the Chip and PIN implementation deadline of 14th February, the National Consumer Council (NCC) warned yesterday.

According to the consumer watchdog, up to three million elderly and disabled consumers find it difficult to use Chip and PIN cards, because of problems in remembering PIN numbers or because physical disabilities make it hard to use keypads.

Like everyone else who holds a Chip and PIN card, these consumers will no longer be able to sign for goods in Chip and PIN enabled stores after 14th February, and will be obliged to use their PIN number. This, says the NCC, will result in "misery and frustration" – which can be avoided, because there is a simple solution.

As APACS, the UK's Payments Association advised last week, disabled and elderly cardholders are entitled to apply to their card company for an alternative card, most likely a chip and signature card, that will enable them to continue signing no matter where they shop after Valentine’s Day.

About 100,000 chip and signature cards have already been issued, says APACS, but if any customer still needs one there is still time to get one issued before 14th February. They should contact their card company now.

“Our research has shown that the overwhelming majority of disabled cardholders have welcomed chip and PIN and are happily using it ahead of 14th February,” said Sandra Quinn from chip and PIN. “We accept however that some disabled cardholders may find using a PIN more difficult and we are pleased to see that they are contacting their banks ahead of the change and requesting a chip and signature card so they can continue to sign.”

The NCC says the announcement is too late. It wants a high-profile publicity campaign as a matter of urgency.

"A year ago we urged the banks to launch an information campaign and improve bank staff awareness of the chip and PIN alternatives," said Claire Whyley, Deputy Director of Policy at the NCC. "We are really disappointed that banks haven’t taken their responsibilities to vulnerable customers more seriously. Three million people could find themselves high and dry at the checkout."

The NCC has also called for changes to the Banking Code to give consumers clear information on the cards available to them.

According to Help the Aged spokesman Paul Bates, the charity has “heard of appalling cases where older customers have been forced to leave their shopping behind at the tills because they could not remember their PIN.”

"There is an alternative to chip and PIN cards but banks are failing to promote this,” he said.