Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, once said; “The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”
It’s clear that prediction is becoming reality. Think about all the things you can do in your local town square. Most of them can be done online instead, including food shopping, banking and catching up with friends.
Unfortunately, some processes have been taken out of the town square altogether, with a handful of government branches opting to go ‘digital by default’. That means some services can only be accessed online, including claiming some benefits.
The effect of going ‘digital by default’
According to research from Age UK, there are 5.3 million people in the UK who do not use the internet. 91% of those people are aged 55 and over, which means that there are 4.8 million people who are in, or approaching retirement, who will not be able to access some of the help they are entitled to.
This includes Housing Benefit and Pension Credit, both of which could give over-55s a much-needed financial boost, and while you may not claim them, you might know someone who does.
In 2015/16, DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) figures show that unclaimed Pension Credits totalled £3.3 billion, while almost a fifth (19%) of entitled pensioners are not claiming their share of Housing Benefit.
Housing Benefit is among the government help which can only be accessed online. The research shows that there is little help available for those who are unable or unwilling to use the internet to make a claim, which means that they are more likely to be excluded and miss out on financial help which could be the difference between surviving and truly enjoying retirement.
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.”
Is someone you know affected by this?
We know that assuming all pensioners are reluctant to go online is a massive generalisation, and to do so would be a huge mistake. But, we also know that there are plenty of people who are web-savvy who will have friends and relatives who could benefit from a helping hand when it comes to using online services.
It may be that your parents or friends are missing out on valuable help, and you can help them to improve their financial position. For example, do you know someone who might be eligible to claim benefits, but who does not have access to a computer to do so? They may simply need you to show them where they can access that technology for free, such as the local library.
There are three ways you can help those who cannot access online services themselves:
1. Do it for them
74% of those who do not use the internet say that nothing could encourage them to learn how to get online. As the only way to claim some of the benefits is via a digital service, it may be necessary for a relative or friend to navigate the application on their behalf. This is usually acceptable, if the correct declarations are made at the time.
Some online services will need to be accessed annually, or regularly throughout the claimant’s life. With the increase in life expectancy, that could mean that you are committing to carry out this service frequently for as long as 30 or even 40 years, therefore, you need to make sure that you are happy to do so.
2. Show them how to do it themselves
7% of over-75s report that they have used the internet previously but have not done anything online within the past three months. For those, and any retirees who may not have had access previously, but who are willing to learn, it may be worthwhile teaching them how to so these things independently.
For the more receptive, but less technically-experienced pensioners, is may just take a bit of coaching and patience to get them online and completing their own claims. They are still likely to need guidance, which is rarely available through governments or local councils. So, once again, this will be down to friends, family or professionals.
3. Put them in touch with expert help
There are numerous support systems and services available to help those who are missing out on benefits due to inability to get online, including: