91% of people who do not use the internet in the UK are over the age of 55, According to Age UK.
While the decisions to use the internet solely resides with the individuals, there is a worrying increase in the number of vital services which are being moved into digital-only formats and which may be out of reach for older people as a result.
One such move has meant that applying for some government benefits can only be done via an online application form.
You can help
As you are reading this on our website, we assume that you are not at risk of losing benefits due to a reluctance or inability to use the internet. However, we do know that you probably have friends, relatives or co-workers who are over 55 and may be struggling to access certain services or benefits as a result of those things being moved into a digital-only space.
What’s at stake?
Decisions taken to move applications for certain benefits online has meant that, for many older people, it has become harder, or even impossible for them to claim Housing Benefit and Pensions Credits. For some retirees, these benefits are a lifeline and form part of a limited income. For others, it may just be the reason they can afford to access the care they need. Either way, it is important that all pensioners who are eligible to claim benefits are given the access necessary to do so.
In 2015/16, unclaimed Pension Credits totalled £3.3 billion (Source: DWP (Department of Work and Pensions). It is not beyond sense to assume that at least a portion of that amount was unclaimed due to a lack of access, rather than it being unwanted.
Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager, Centre for Ageing Better commented: “Digital by default makes sense for much of society, but in the drive for efficiency we must not lose sight of the reality that some people won’t ever go online or will have limited ability to use the internet. Companies, government, and services who are moving operations online need to ensure that these people don’t get locked out of access to information and essential services such as banking, health information, booking appointments or paying bills.”
What can you do if someone you know is struggling?
First, it may not be obvious that someone is struggling to access online services, especially given the tendency for older people to be more averse to discussing finances. We are not suggesting that you ask everybody you know who looks likely they may be over 55! However, we do think that, using your own discretion, you will be able to determine if someone you are close to is missing out on key benefits which could help to make life a bit easier for them.
Secondly, it is best to arm yourself with the knowledge and resources necessary to help those people who might need it, before rushing off to do so. To make sure you are prepared to be a hero for someone in need, we’ve made some notes on the three options facing you:
1. Taking over
If you feel confident in your ability to do so and do not mind potentially needing to repeat the process on a regular basis, you could offer to fill out the forms on behalf of your friend or relative. Figures from the Centre for Aging Better show that 74% of people who do not use the internet have no interest in learning how to do so. Therefore, having someone carry out online activities on their behalf may be the only solution.
Don’t worry about filling forms out on behalf of someone else, either. It is accepted by the authorities, and there will be a declaration for you to sign.
2. Share the knowledge
Struggling to use an online service does not necessarily mean that someone has no interest in it. It may be a case of sitting patiently and showing your friend or relative how to navigate an online form by themselves. This could serve three purposes:
- They will be better equipped to do things online in the future
- Their self-confidence may increase
- It may spark a new hobby or interest
Don’t forget, a portion of those who do not currently use the internet report that they have had previous access but have not logged on within the past three months. That may mean that they need a refresher course in technology or may boil down to something simpler: not having a computer.
To help those who are willing to help themselves, you can:
- Show them how to access a public computer (your local library can help with this)
- Sit with them while they learn the ropes
- Offer them as much support as possible to do it themselves.
3. Direct them to a professional
There are many organisations and charities which offer assistant for older people who may need help accessing technology or using online services, these include: