Access Denied: how digital-only council services exclude older Londoners who are offline

The campaigning charity Age UK London is warning that digital-only services will be excluding some of the most vulnerable older Londoners from vital financial support.

Age UK London has just released results of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to 33 London councils requesting information on the availability of support for people without internet access. The findings, based on the responses from the 29 councils who replied, are published in a new report entitled “Access Denied: accessing council services without the internet.”

The findings show that:

  • Nine, or 31% of respondents, do not offer offline access to council tax reductions or housing benefit
  • Eight, or 25% of respondents, do not offer offline access to Blue Badge applications
  • Five, or 17% of respondents, do not offer any offline access to council tax rebates, council tax reduction, housing benefit and Blue Badge applications.

As part of its “Mind the Digital Gap Campaign”, Age UK London is calling for action to tackle the barriers that face older Londoners who are offline, and for decision makers and public service providers not to exclude those who cannot, or choose not, to use the internet.

In addition to asking councils the series of questions, Age UK London also conducted “mystery shopping” with twelve London councils which showed that the offline alternatives mentioned in responses to the FOI requests, did not always exist in practice. In just under half of all cases, for example, the mystery shoppers were not able to obtain the information they sought about how it would be possible to apply for either housing benefit or council tax reduction without using the internet.

Abigail Wood, CEO of Age UK London, said: “The results of our FOI requests and mystery shopping are worrying as they show that older people who do not have access to the internet – whether by choice or otherwise – are being 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.”

Abigail Wood continued: “It’s especially concerning that one in three councils in London are excluding offline residents from applying for Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reductions during a cost-of-living crisis. This digital exclusion will be preventing older residents from accessing the vital support to which they are entitled.

“A quarter of older Londoners live in poverty; councils with no offline alternative to accessing services are exacerbating this severe problem even further.”

The charity is calling on all councils in London to offer high-quality offline alternatives to digital services so that everyone can access their services without relying on others. They are also calling for councils to ensure that their websites and online systems are accessible and easy to use, including for those with limited digital skills or disabilities. These recommendations echoed the London Recovery Board’s A Fairer City report published last year which included as one of its actions “Make digital services accessible and provide alternatives for people without digital access.”

Wood concluded: “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.”

Age UK London are inviting older people to join local groups in the boroughs of Croydon, Redbridge, Westminster, and Merton to provide feedback on their experiences with local Councils. You can contact for further information.

To read the report, click here:

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