Practical Experience Using Prepaid Cards

We found out how JRS are using Equals prepaid cards to get payment to their 350 refugee friends.

Organisation Profile

How many people do you give destitution payments to each month?


How do you decide who gets payments?

Anyone who meets the criteria to be registered with our Day Centre or post-detention project can receive payments. 

How did you make destitution payments before Covid-19?

Cash, in person at the weekly Day Centre, or in an individual appointment in our office.

How do you make payments now?

We are making payments to people using Equals prepaid cards. This involved a huge communication effort (bulk text, letters, website, word of mouth, phonecalls) to inform members of our plans and get correct contact details to set up each recipient with a named card. (You can create anonymous cards but there is no fraud cover, and I wanted members to feel a sense of ownership and be able to use the online app to check their balance, wherever possible for them). 

The cards were ordered and posted to our centre. We then checked back with everyone to make sure they were in the same address before a mass delivery operation, alongside food parcels, to get the cards to members. Two refugee volunteers tested the cards and helped us create guidance for recipients on setting up their account and using the cards. We have since translated this into French. 

We coordinate the delivery of the card with our office team and resend the activation email so that it is at the top of their inbox the day the card is delivered. We set up a call with a volunteer the day after delivery to talk them through the process, in English, French or Arabic. 

What made you choose this method?

We were an early adopter of Equals prepaid cards when the pandemic hit and we realised people were going to suffer and experience poverty and starvation without access to cash. 

What challenges have you encountered?

Our experience so far is that some people take easily to it, read the instructions/pictures we provide, download the app to their phone, activate the card and start using it without any headaches. However, some people struggle. Some who struggle are the people we expected would struggle – they are street homeless, speak little English and their lives are consumed with the hell of trying to survive. But some of the people we support who are highly articulate, speak good English and are a bit more stable accommodation-wise have also struggled to get going. 

We have had a lot of calls from people who were a bit overwhelmed when the card arrived and needed reassurance – it was rarely a technical problem, and often not even a language barrier, but just unfamiliarity. 

The take home message being – you can’t always predict who is going to struggle with the move from cash to card! 

In response we have adapted what we are doing and put a lot of extra people (volunteers and staff) on the project and treated it as an organisational priority.

Might you stick with this method going forward?

We are planning in case of a second lockdown in response to a second wave of infection, but also want to use this system longer term if all goes well.   

What feedback have you got from clients?

Those now using the card successfully are absolutely delighted to have money again. 

What practical advice would you give to other organisations?

Equals have continued to be very helpful indeed. Prompt, supportive and all round impressive. They process card applications easily within the 5 days they say they will and the platform for staff to make payments is very easy to use.

However, this is a big commitment to do successfully. There is no doubt that rolling this kind of large project out, in lockdown, at speed, to meet an immediate need without a back up, is not ideal. I would have preferred to pilot this with a small group of people and roll it out one person at a time with personal support over a six to nine month period, face-to-face. But in the absence of that possibility and when access to money is critical, we have done the best we can, learning as we go and we are getting there. 

How do you get funding for Destitution Payments?

We are running a crisis appeal at the moment for hardship funds to be able to sustain what we are doing through this uncertain financial period. We have no grant funding for this work just now so are relying on the generosity of our supporters, which makes it an uphill effort!