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Some London councils creating ‘digital gap’ for older residents

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Charity Age UK London has warned that large numbers of older people are at risk of losing financial support due to local authorities’ increasing emphasis on online services.

It has published a report on the issue, Access Denied: accessing council services without the internet, based on a series of freedom of information (FoI) requests and a mystery shopping exercise, and highlighted that a third of London boroughs do not offer a way of applying for housing benefit or council tax reductions without using the internet.

Among its other findings are that 25% of councils do not offer offline access to Blue Badge applications, and 17% do not offer any online access to council tax rebates, council tax reductions, housing benefit and Blue Badge applications.

Its mystery shopping exercise conducted with 12 councils showed that offline alternatives mentioned in responses to FoI requests did not always exist in practice.

In just under half of all cases, the mystery shoppers were not able to obtain the information they sought about how it would be possible to apply for housing benefit or council tax reductions without using the internet.

Excluded from services

Abigail Wood, CEO of Age UK London, said this shows “that older people who do not have access to the internet whether by choice or otherwise, are excluded from accessing important services.

“We found that the only way to apply for council services in many areas is by applying through the local authority’s website, filling in online forms and uploading identification documents.

“This can be challenging for people without digital skills or who lack confidence in using the internet. It completely excludes the 200,000 Londoners over the age of 75 who have never been online.”

She added: “Councils need to assess the impact that only providing services online has for groups of people protected by the Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty, including older people.”

The report includes a number of recommendations for councils, including that they offer non-digital options to residents, provides websites and online systems that are easy to use, and offer training courses or make referrals for those who want to learn to use the internet.

The exercise was carried out as part of the Age UK London’s Digital Gap Campaign, aimed at supporting older people who do not use the internet.

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