Updated: Jul 27
In June the NPC wrote to Ofcom, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports, Local Government Association about the digital exclusion of Older People. The initial letter can be found by clicking on the button below
We have now received a response from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports which can be downloaded or read below
Dear Ms Shortt,
Thank you for your correspondence of 8 June, regarding the digital exclusion of older people. I am responding as the Minister responsible for Digital Skills and Inclusion.
We recognise that, more than ever before, public services and transactions are moving online. We want everyone to be able to use these services so they can reap the benefits they offer and so widen participation in public life. The government is focused on building a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone. DCMS is responsible for coordinating Her Majesty’s Government’s digital inclusion policy, and aims to ensure that as many people as possible, no matter their age, have a base level of digital skills, as well as internet access.
We do, however, understand that some people are also hesitant to access online services because they fear that they may become victims of fraud, or that it is an unsafe environment for their personal data. For this reason, we are taking a number of steps to improve the safety and trustworthiness of the online space, including:
• Increasing online safety by introducing the Online Safety Bill to Parliament, which sets new rules for firms which host user-generated content and search engines, requiring them to introduce measures to protect people from online scams.
• Enabling the widespread use of secure and accessible digital identity solutions that meet the needs of all those who wish to use them, by setting standards, establishing governance, removing legislative blockers, and engaging with industry and civil society groups.
Furthermore, the government and Ofcom agreed a set of commitments with the UK’s major broadband and mobile operators to support vulnerable consumers during the pandemic. Providers committed to working with customers who are finding it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they were treated fairly and appropriately supported. They also provided new and generous landline and mobile offers, such as free or low-cost mobile data boosts, and removal of caps on fixed broadband services.
We are also pursuing opportunities to secure access to banking services for those who do not currently have access to online banking. Last year, industry piloted new shared bank hubs in Rochford, Essex, and Cambuslang, Scotland. The hubs provided basic banking services including counter services run by the Post Office, and dedicated space where community bankers from major banks can meet customers of that bank. Building on the experience of the pilots, industry has committed to extending the opening of these bank hubs until April 2023.
The industry has subsequently announced a further eight shared bank hubs following reviews of the cash needs of local communities. The locations of the planned bank hubs are Acton (West London), Brixham (Devon), Carnoustie (Angus), Knaresborough (North Yorkshire) and Syston (Leicestershire), Buckingham (Buckinghamshire), Cottingham (Yorkshire and the Humber, near Hull) and Troon (Ayrshire). Industry has announced a new Banking Hub company will oversee the rollout of banks hubs across the UK.
It is important to recognise that the way consumers interact with their banking is changing. In 2020, 83 per cent of UK adults used contactless payments, 72 per cent used online banking and 54 per cent used mobile banking, according to UK Finance. The government cannot reverse the changes in the market and in customer behaviour; nor can it determine firms' commercial strategies in response to those changes. Having the flexibility to respond to changes in the market is what makes the UK's financial services sector one of the most competitive and productive in the world, and the government wants to protect that.
However, the government also firmly believes that the impact of branch closures should be understood, considered, and mitigated where possible so that all customers, wherever they live, continue to have appropriate access to banking services. Although I can understand the dissatisfaction arising from bank closures, decisions on opening and closing branches are taken by the management team of each bank on a commercial basis. I hope you can appreciate that it would therefore be inappropriate for the government to intervene in these decisions.
I would also like to reassure you that the government recognises the ability to transact in cash remains important to millions of people across the UK, particularly those in vulnerable groups. It remains the choice of individuals and organisations as to whether to accept or decline any form of payment, including cash or card. This may be based on factors such as customer preference and cost. You may be interested to know that the Financial Conduct Authority has published research on cash acceptance by small and medium-sized enterprises, which found that the primary motivation for accepting cash is to provide customers with choice. Nearly all (98 per cent) of surveyed businesses stated they would never turn away a customer if they needed to pay by cash.
Regarding your concerns about the BBC increasing its digital presence, the BBC remains operationally and editorially independent from the government. As such, decisions over its spending and services are a matter for the BBC. We recognise the BBC, just like individual households, businesses and other organisations across the UK, is having to make difficult financial decisions. We also agree with the BBC Director General on the need for a simpler, leaner BBC, which makes distinctive content, grows its commercial income and is sustainable in the digital future.
Nevertheless, the BBC is required to deliver its remit, which includes providing output and services that meet the needs of all of the United Kingdom’s nations, regions and communities. The specific ways in which the BBC achieves this is a matter for the BBC and Ofcom, which sets the BBC's Operating Licence.
With best wishes,
Chris Philp MP
Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy