Telecare equipment used by nearly two million older and disabled people could cease to operate unless councils get more support with preparing for the upgrade to next generation digital networks, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.
It has sounded the warning in regard to plans to switch off the copper wire based Public Switched Telephone Network (PTSN) by 2025.
Some services such as personal alarms and telephone handsets used by older and disabled people in their homes rely on the existing copper wire and are at risk unless the Government does more to support the switchover to fibre broadband, the LGA said.
It acknowledged that plans such as Project Gigabit to ensure everyone can access fast broadband will encourage digital roll out, but said it could be undermined if existing devices cannot connect to the latest equipment and are not replaced.
This means that local authorities need more support with data sharing, testing, awareness and funding to prepare their residents for the change.
The LGA said it had run a survey that revealed almost 40% of responding councils do not yet know how they will pay for the move to digital telecare in the wake of local government funding cuts over the past decade.
They are also concerned about the lack of awareness of the change among residents, and demanding reassurance from telecoms providers that they will do all they can to support their vulnerable customers through the process – including power back-up support to keep devices running when the PSTN is switch off.
LGA digital connectivity spokesperson Cllr Mark Hawthorne said: “Councils have a critical role to play in the digital switchover which is fast approaching and will impact on a whole range of vital services, including in adult social care.
“Our survey shows that unless action is taken now to support councils to help their residents and suppliers with this change, we face the prospect of serious disruption to people’s lives, including most urgently those who use personal devices such as alarms and fall detectors to stay safe in their own homes.
“While we want to see every part of the country benefit from the digital rollout, we need to make sure no one is left behind and potentially at risk, whether it be someone living at home on their own in need of support, or people going about their daily lives waiting at the traffic lights or withdrawing cash from an ATM.
“Expanding high speed digital access is essential to economic growth, but it should not be at the expense of those who are older and more vulnerable, who rely on their devices and other services to maintain their independence, safety and wellbeing.”