Every so often a retailer spots a post office going out of business nearby and asks me how to go about getting the service shifted into their own business. The sub-post office, that weird mix of public and private enterprise, can be a golden opportunity for some, although lately it's looking a little risky. At the moment there are around 450 for sale on the open market (advertised on the internet site BusinessesForSale.com). From April 1, the Post Office (or Consignia as it now styles itself) will consign to the bin the levy it charges new entrants -- which amounts to 25 per cent of the first year's salary -- in a bid to boost transfers. Around two post offices a day close in Britain, so the future does not look rosy, especially since the payment of benefits is set to switch from POs to banks by 2003. According to Colin Baker, general secretary of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, members fear their salaries will drop by 40 per cent after 2003 when social security benefits and pensions will be paid into bank accounts. Footfall in sub-post offices will drop dramatically and with it, possibly, a lot of impulse sales ­ although a number of sub-postmasters have told me that the post office queues never buy anything else anyway. The PO has a couple of initiatives up its sleeve to enhance the sub-post office business, including turning them into banks and into information centres offering advice on government services. Here's hoping they get going very soon.And here's a rule of thumb for you. Where government departments are concerned, the left hand often doesn't know what the right hand is doing. For example, last week a retailer asked me about his responsibility for paying the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC). He had been contacted by the Benefits Agency which had informed him that he had a member of staff who qualified and that he should pay it via the PAYE scheme. His accountant then told him that there was no point in switching just one member of staff to PAYE, he would need to switch everyone. However, no-one informed him that, if he didn't run a PAYE scheme, he didn't need to start now. All he was required to do was to tick the box on the Inland Revenue form saying he did not operate a PAYE scheme and the benefit could be paid through a bank account, or claimed from the post office. I could add here that it could be claimed in this way until 2003 but it would be irrelevant because the WFTC is to be replaced by another scheme within two years -- so it's a case of watch this space. A useful telephone number to keep in your back office is the Employers' Helpline: 0845 7143 143. Since it cuts across so many different Government departments, it does seem to know its left from its right. {{GROCER CLUB }}