They returned the correspondence, issued by the Department of Social Protection, as the enclosed document encourages the public to set up electronic bank transfers to receive their social welfare payments.
The Irish Postmasters Union (IPU) said the recommendation contributes to the closure of post offices as social welfare payments are a “core post office function”.
It said the move is a direct threat to the livelihoods of its members and will contribute to the closure of post offices nationwide.
Currently, around half of all social protection payments are paid through electronic means. All other payments are distributed by the post office.
Members of the IPU gathered at the doors of the Department of Social Protection in Dublin yesterday to return the forms in person. Postmasters say they have been seeking a meeting with Minister Joan Burton for the past month.
Ned O’Hara, general secretary of the IPU, said members are extremely frustrated.
“There is a view among postmasters that, by recommending social protection payments through the banks, Government policy is in effect closing down the post office network. We want the tánaiste to meet with us and hear our concerns and solutions,” said Mr O’Hara.
Paddy McCann, president of the IPU, said social protection payments account for 30% of post office business and its spin-off value is as high as 50%.
In keeping with their contractual duties, postmasters say they have not returned all the forms and have “kept a number available”.
However, they are expecting a revised version of the form to be issued by the Department of Social Protection shortly.
In response, the Department of Social Protection said the Government was committed to maintaining the network.
It said post offices are a key piece of financial and social infrastructure for urban and rural areas.
It also said it will pay €50m to An Post this year for cash welfare payments over the counter — the single biggest contract for the company and the network.
The department said the original intention of the new welfare payment forms reflected the growing trend to electronic transfers of benefits while still giving people the option to collect payments at post offices.