letter to Ofcom, DCMS, LGA
The NPC has written to Ofcom, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports and the Local Government Association about the digital exclusion of Older People.
You can read the letter below
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports
Local Government Association
The National Pensioners Convention is the largest campaigning organisation for older people in the UK with around 1.1 million members. We believe that older people should be respected and supported in their retirement as valued members of society. Sadly, this is becoming much harder to achieve with the headlong rush to digital first rather than the slow, informative route.
This letter is written to the three public bodies responsible for areas of communication to customers, customers rights and inclusivity. Whilst each body takes a specific role, they are each linked to the other through the need to work with their individual customer base to ensure that everyone can give and receive communication in the way that is most helpful and appropriate to them.
The NPC does help signpost those older people who wish to take up training and support to get online, but it seems there is a deafening silence on remedying the difficulties for those who cannot or do not want to be online in their later years. Research shows that as many older people leave online services as join them, so something, somewhere is amiss.
We hear from our members on a daily basis that they are finding everyday tasks that they could easily carry out are becoming a minefield of technology, cashless and the inability to order what they need over the phone and pay on delivery.
A case in point is the rush to digitalise our phone system. We are working with BT to ensure that older people are able to understand that the phone line that they have used for decades is changing and the replacement will not work when there is a power cut. There are many other areas that concern our members where they are unable to get a mobile phone signal or don’t even have/want a mobile phone; or when they are connected to an alarm system that will not work in a power cut, and their overall safety during an outage.
Now we hear that the BBC is turning radio digital as well as putting BBC4 online. BBC4 has a lot of documentary and historical content programmes that older people like. Those of us over 75 who do not qualify for Pension Credit pay the full cost of our TV licence which should give us access to the programmes we want without being expected to lay out the cost of broadband and the devices to go online – no need – we have a TV! The BBC is a publicly funded body and Ofcom must at least speak up for those customers that will suffer when our radios go digital and BBC4 disappears off our screen. Older people use their radio as well as TV to keep up with local news, their interest in sports and specific programmes on a day to day basis. Most will have owned their radio for decades, so will Ofcom be suggesting to the BBC that they replace analogue radios free of charge?
Recently, the issue of car parking has been highlighted. It seems that, as with everything else in post-COVID UK, if you don’t have the appropriate App, then you are unable to pay to park. Given that some of theparking facilities are at hospitals where older people are visiting for treatment or to see a relative, it is extremely unhelpful and exclusive.
We are aware of the government’s commitment to keeping cash, but are concerned that the opportunities to pay cash, whether at a bar, shop, on a train, on a bus, in a taxi, in a car park, buying Wembley football tickets, or other daily needs are fast disappearing. Older people use cash and we would very much like to see the legislation promised by the government put in place that protects cash transactions, gives each local area where a bank no longer exists free access to cash or a community hub, and enable older people to be independent rather than relying on a library, friends or family to do things online. Not everyone has a bank card or can travel to an out of the way cash machine.
In these times of high inflation, we are worried that those older people already online will not be able to afford to retain their broadband package. It is a well-researched and known fact that older people already online leave after being frustrated by not being able to get what they want and those websites without contact phone numbers to give assistance.
We take this opportunity to share with you the guidelines on rights drawn up by the Commissioner for Older People in Wales and put before the Welsh Assembly. These are very straightforward – indeed they are what the government tells us are our rights in England too – although it gets harder to believe when each day we are faced with yet another piece of our daily life disappearing out of our control onto an online platform or App.
Safety and security are massive issues for everyone, but particularly for older people. The new Online Harms Bill does not, in our view, go far enough in protecting the consumer from scams and other sources of distress. Platform providers clearly make profits from the money we give them when we sign contracts for broadband and therefore they should be responsible for paying compensation for losses to customers.
We would like to request that the guidelines attached to this letter (and supposedly already in England) are followed up and that your body ensures that alternatives to online access are in place in every public service. What is convenient for organisations is certainly not convenient for the older members of the public who are fast becoming invisible in a digital world that refuses to adjust to the needs of those who cannot for whatever reason be online.
We look forward to hearing from you with a clear undertaking on how your public body is making sure that older people and others without the ability to go online are included in everything you do.
Download the letter to Ofcom, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports, Local Government Association
Download the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales guidance - Ensuring access to information and services in a digital age
Download the booklet produced by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales - Know Your Rights