Age UK research shows digital excluding elderly from benefits

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Age UK research finds ‘mixed’ guidance from councils in England for older people who are not Internet users, calls for legal requirement for authorities to maintain offline access channels and help. Two-fifths of local councils (41%) in England say housing benefit and council tax reduction – two key benefits to which older people may be entitled – can only be claimed through digitally-enabled means, despite there being nearly 4 million older people in the UK without access to the Internet, and at risk digital exclusion.

Research by charity Age UK involved telephoning 100 local councils picked at random, to ask what options people have if they want to claim help with their rent and council tax but are not online. The results, published in Age UK’s policy report Everything is Online Nowadays were ‘mixed’, but found that councils overwhelmingly pushed people towards claiming via the Internet, even when it was clear they were not themselves computer users.

While councils often told Age UK researchers that they could provide help, in some cases this was very limited, according to the report. Fourteen local councils contacted said they would only accept online claims and did not offer a face-to-face service that would enable someone who had never been online to claim. This leaves older people in need at risk of missing out altogether on financial help which they could really do with and to which they are legally entitled, according to the report.

“Some older people may have a computer literate friend or relative they can call on for help but not everybody is happy to share the personal information that may be required, and it is important to remember that a significant proportion of older people live alone,” said Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK.

“It is totally unacceptable that millions of older people who are not online are effectively being screened out of accessing benefits to which they are legally entitled, and often badly need, because they cannot use the online application methods that are increasingly the default.”

Abrahams added: “The shift to our routine transactions and interactions with public bodies taking place online is becoming so pronounced that the question arises as to whether we need new legal duties to ensure they continue to offer alternative methods of access, whether that’s by telephone, letter or face-to-face. Age UK thinks that this debate is now needed if we are to protect the interests of the substantial numbers of older people – about one in three of the entire older population – who do not use computers, and who are at huge risk of exclusion as a result.”

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