‘It’s racism’: millions of Britons left out in the digital age | Consumer issues | So Good News


Meveryone in Britain can’t live without a smartphone and use it to manage every aspect of their lives, from banking to shopping and socialising. But what if the opposite is true, and this smart technology is setting up invisible barriers that prevent you from doing important things like paying online, consulting your doctor or parking a car.

This is how it is for Jean Peters*. The 83-year-old widow, who lives alone in a village in south Cambridgeshire, complains that “everything is moving online faster and faster” to the detriment of those who “can’t cope”.

He is one of the millions of elderly members of the smartphone community who find it impossible to carry out daily activities in a world that thinks everyone has a cell phone.

“Every year it becomes more and more difficult for people with technical disabilities to function effectively, and we’re really frustrated by that,” says Peters. “It is a big issue of justice and discrimination. I mean, how did we get to the point where it’s hard to pay for parking without a cell phone?”

All the data shows that rather than being alone, Peters reflects a growing depression across the country. The charity Age UK estimates that 40% of over 75s do not use the internet at all and are struggling to access essential services as a result.

Peters, who uses an iPad every day and an iPhone he’s not comfortable with, says companies need to offer other online options.

“Have you tried contacting the power company or the insurance company yourself?” he asks. “If you miraculously get through, they ask you for a password or something that you don’t have, then you’re forced to quit.”

The widow is also concerned about the return of high street banks. Two branches close to where she lives have recently closed, meaning she has to drive 30 miles to do anything more than a basic personal banking job.

“I’ve been banking with Barclays for over 60 years but now I find I can no longer use the services I used to pay £20 a month because I don’t trust online banking and I can’t,” he says.

The Digital Poverty Alliance – a group of charities created to tackle the problem – estimates that there are over 11 million people in the UK who are struggling to cope with the new technology alone.

However, despite many studies showing how the elderly are being overcharged, or overcharged for the same services, nothing is being done to help their plight, it says.

The combination of the coronavirus epidemic – when it became legal for companies not to answer their phone calls or to open, let alone respond to, letters – and banks are forced to carry out a strong customer check (SCA) for those who are banking or even buying online, locking people out of the country they used to deal with.

The most notable example among many is last year’s decision by home delivery service Milk & More to move to online-only accounts, a move that alienated many of the company’s customers who were part of its physical customers.

An elderly woman on the right uses a mobile phone keypad to dial a phone number to call home.
Not everyone uses the latest cell phone technology. Photo: Realimage/Alamy

Add to that the fact that the phones aren’t the same Nokia phones that many older people are used to, and it’s easy to see why many people feel left out.

“Most of the over 75s are used to video calling their grandchildren during the pandemic. However, when it comes to doing the most difficult things online, many of this group tell us they struggle for a variety of reasons,” said Sally West, policy manager at Age UK. “Some people have difficulty using a keyboard or have hearing problems and struggle with a mobile phone.

“People don’t just miss shopping online, many important services are being pushed online without thinking about those who don’t use it or who don’t have a phone or computer.”

“For example, the authorities are pushing important services such as housing benefits online,” he adds. “We know that many seniors who are eligible often do not apply for this benefit. Making it difficult for those who are not online to use it will only reduce the uptake of those who need it most. It’s a similar story.”

Elderly woman using her laptop computer at home
The Covid pandemic has caused many elderly people to video call relatives but many services are going online with no idea for those who do not have internet access. Image: Alamy

When Guardian Money asked readers to share their experiences earlier this year, the problem of paying for online purchases in the face of new anti-fraud checks is causing a lot of headlines.

Under SCA rules, online shoppers are often required to verify their ID when paying. It is complicated because they have to enter their personal information (password or similar) plus a one-time pass that is generated at home using a card reader or sent to the cardholder’s mobile phone or through the bank’s mobile phone. app.

Getting the code isn’t just a problem for older consumers without a cell phone; it’s also been one of those living in areas with poor mobility – but there are a few ways you can make it work better.

When you ask, some banks send you a code as a recorded message to a landline. The downside is that they are often spoken too quickly. Perhaps the best way – if your bank offers it – is to receive the number by email.

The problem is not all banks offer a cash or email option. The rest of the world, but Barclays doesn’t. End customers who do not have a mobile phone (or signal) must use the app or a card reader to confirm their purchase.

It’s worth noting that not all purchases require authorization at checkout, as most of these checks are done in the background, but enough of them can cause problems. “Customers should speak to their bank or service provider to discuss the options available,” says UK Finance, which has advice for vulnerable customers on its website.

The inability to obtain one-time passcodes has become a major problem for people shopping online on behalf of their elderly parents, often from their homes, and from abroad.

Banks cannot send one-time certificates to foreign phones but the email method will work if the person making the purchase can access or send it. If your card issuer does not send an email, you may be better off changing it.

So far, no consumer group has named the best bank for senior customers. However, we think Nationwide is a good option, not least because it’s keeping branches open. The Co-operative has been praised by readers in this regard – if you go to the co-operative. Last year this was impossible, forcing the Co-op to hire more staff.

Which consumer group? says First Direct and Nationwide are the top two banks for disabled customers, which, although not ideal, is a good sign of banks willing to do more to help.

Another option is to choose a card issuer that will allow you to put the store of your choice on the approved list. This means that if you go through the verification process when using, say, a Tesco or Sainsbury’s website for the first time, it won’t ask you to verify subsequent shops once you’ve added the site to your list of trusted beneficiaries.

American Express allows this through its SafeKey program. The hotly contested new John Lewis Partnership card also lets you create a list of “trusted retailers”.

Parking meters with a sign on how to pay by phone
Many people would prefer a way to pay for cars without using a mobile phone. Photo: Simon Dack/Alamy

Jenny Ross, finance editor at consumer group What?

“Our research shows the greatest support for banking choices in people across age groups and that older people are less likely to use banking apps,” says Ross. “The number of high street branches has been reduced in recent years, and with further closures to follow, it’s important that consumers who don’t manage their money on a smartphone don’t forget.”

Dangerous car parking software

Now nowhere is the digital divide more pronounced than in the country’s car parks, according to campaigners. As more and more parking lot owners — many in important locations including hospitals — replace cash machines with signs that require customers to pay through their app, seniors who don’t use cell phones will see their states shrink.

Parking apps like PayByPhone and RingGo can be quick and easy if you know what you’re doing but they’re a pain for the uninitiated who just want to pump money at the meter and drive away. Indeed, campaigner Esther Rantzen has called on ministers to stop parking businesses that force customers to pay by app unless they are allowed to pay the fine.

On a practical level there is little drivers can do other than find other ways to get money, or plan ahead and ask a friend or family member to pay the money on their behalf. Or, if you can, use a parking lot with a number recognition system, which can be convenient.

Private car parks may be entitled to a pay-as-you-go app but would this be able to overcome an Equality Act challenge from someone who can’t use a mobile phone? Maybe not.

* Jean Peters is not her real name.


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