‘It’s discrimination’: millions of Britons frozen in the digital age | consumer affairs

MNo one in Britain can live without their smartphone and use it to manage all aspects of their lives, from banking to shopping and socializing. But what if the opposite were true, and this clever technology erects invisible barriers that make you unable to do basic things like pay online, call your GP, or even park your car.

This is how Jan Peters* feels. The 83-year-old widow, who lives alone in a south Cambridgeshire village, complains that “everything is going online at a faster and faster rate” at the expense of those “who can’t keep up”.

She’s one of the millions of older people from the smartphone underclass who find it nearly impossible to carry out basic, everyday functions in a world where everyone assumes they live via their cell phone.

“It’s getting more and more difficult year after year for those who are technically challenged to function normally, and we’re getting increasingly angry about it,” says Peters. It is a fundamental issue of justice and discrimination. I mean, how did we get to the point where it’s almost impossible to pay for parking without a cell phone? “

All the data indicates that far from being alone, Peters is expressing a growing sense of frustration across the country. The charity Age UK estimates that 40% of those over the age of 75 do not use the internet at all and struggle to access basic services as a result.

Peters, who uses an iPad daily and an iPhone she’s less comfortable with, says companies should be required to offer online alternatives.

“Have you tried contacting an energy or insurance company in person recently?” she asks. “If by some miracle you gain access, they ask for some password or other that you definitely don’t have, at which point you have to give up.”

The widow was also affected by the banks’ retreat from the main streets. The two branches closest to where she lives closed recently, which means she has to drive 30 miles to carry out anything more than basic banking in person.

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

The Digital Poverty Coalition – a group of charities formed to tackle exactly this problem – estimates that there are as many as 11 million people in the UK struggling to deal with only tech choices that have become the new normal.

Yet while countless studies have shown how seniors are increasingly being frozen, or charged much higher fees for the same services, little is being done to help their plight, she says.

The combination of the coronavirus pandemic — when it became acceptable for companies not to answer their phones or even open messages, let alone reply to them — and forcing banks to put in place robust customer authentication (SCA) checks for those banks or even shopping online, is keeping people out of business. the world they used to share.

A prime example of this was the decision last year by home delivery company Milk & More to move to online-only accounts, a move that disadvantaged many of the company’s older shoppers who were among its core customer base.

Right-handed elderly woman uses a phone touch keypad to dial a phone number to make a phone call from home.
Not everyone uses the latest cell phone technology. Photo: Realimage/Alamy

Add in the fact that smartphones don’t look like the Nokia devices many older people are used to, and it’s easy to see why so many people feel left behind.

“Many over 75s are used to video calling their grandkids during the pandemic. However, when it comes to doing more complex things online, a lot of this group are telling us they are struggling for a variety of reasons,” says Sally West, Policy Director at Age UK. “Some people have difficulty using a keyboard or may have hearing problems and have difficulty using a mobile phone.

“Not only do people miss out on online shopping, but many important online services are thoughtlessly paid for by those who do not use or have access to a phone or computer.”

“For example, local authorities are increasingly paying for important services such as housing benefits online,” she adds. “We know that a lot of eligible seniors don’t often apply for this benefit. Making it more difficult for those who aren’t online to apply only reduces its acceptance among those who need it most. It’s a similar story across the board. Domains”.

Elderly woman using her laptop at home
The Covid pandemic has led to more seniors video calling their relatives, but more services are moving online without thinking for those without online access. Photography: El Alamy

When Guardian Money asked readers to report on their experiences earlier this year, it was the issue of paying for online shopping in the face of new anti-fraud identification checks that caused the biggest headache.

Under SCA rules, online shoppers often have to prove their identity when making a payment. It is complicated in that they are required to enter a piece of information they know (a password or something similar) as well as a one-time passcode generated at home using a card reader or sent to the cardholder’s mobile phone or via the bank’s mobile app.

Getting this code hasn’t been much of a problem for older shoppers who just don’t have a cell phone; It was also one for those who live in areas with a weak mobile signal — but there are a number of ways you can make it work.

If you ask, some banks will send you the code as a registered message to a landline. The downside to this is that they are often spoken too quickly. Perhaps the best option – if your bank offers it – is to get the code via email.

The problem is not all banks offer a landline or email option. Nationwide it does but Barclays does not. Customers of the latter who do not have a mobile phone (or signal) must use the app or its card reader to confirm that they have made the purchase.

It should be noted that not all shopping transactions require authorization at checkout, as many of these checks are done in the background, but they are enough to cause problems. “Customers should speak to their bank or service provider to discuss the options available,” says UK Finance, which offers guidance for clients at risk on its website.

Not having access to one-time passcodes has been a major problem for people who shop online on behalf of their older parents, usually from their own home, and in some cases another country.

Banks generally won’t send one-time passcodes to foreign cell phones, but the emailed code option will work provided the person doing the shopping intercepts or forwards it. If your card provider didn’t send an email, you might be better off switching.

To date, no consumer group has identified the best bank for older customers. Still, we think Nationwide is a good choice, not least because it keeps the branches open. The co-op has been praised by readers in this regard – if you call the contact staff. Last year, this was nearly impossible, forcing the Co-op to hire more employees.

Which consumer group? He says First Direct and Nationwide are the two largest banks for disabled customers, which while not directly related, is a good indication that banks are willing to do more to help.

Another option is to choose a card provider that allows you to put your chosen store on an approved list. This means that once you have passed the verification process when using for example a Tesco or Sainsbury’s site for the first time, it will not ask you to verify subsequent stores once the site is added to the list of trusted patrons.

American Express allows this through its SafeKey program. The much-criticised New John Lewis Partnership Card also allows you to set up a “Trusted Retailer” list.

A waiting counter with a sign showing how to pay by phone
Many people would like the option to pay for parking without having to use a mobile phone. Photo credit: Simon Duck/Alamy

says Jenny Ross, money editor at Consumer Group ?

“Our research indicates strong support for personal banking choices across age groups and that older adults are less likely to use banking apps,” says Ross. “The number of flagships has been reduced in recent years, and with more closures, it is important that consumers who do not manage their finances on a smartphone are not forgotten.”

Dreaded parking apps

Currently nowhere is the digital divide being felt more acutely than in the country’s parking lots, according to campaigners. As more and more parking lot owners—many in vital locations including hospitals—have replaced cash machines with signs asking customers to pay via their apps, older adults without smartphones have seen their world shrink.

Parking apps like PayByPhone and RingGo can be quick and convenient if you know what you’re doing but they’re a nightmare for beginners who just want to pump coins into the meter and walk away. In fact, campaigner Esther Rantzen has called on ministers to stop parking companies that force customers to pay by app only from allowing them to charge fines.

On a practical level, there is little drivers can do other than find alternatives to taking cash, or plan ahead and ask a friend or relative to pay the fee for them. Or, if you can, use a parking lot with a number plate recognition system, which can be even easier.

Private parking spots may only have the right to charge for the app according to their terms and conditions, but will this stand up to a challenge to the equality law from someone who is physically unable to use a smartphone? Mostly not.

*Jane Peters is not her real name.