18th July 2018

The internet is often a point of contention among families. But, whether you think it has brought the world closer together, or driven us apart, one thing is true; it has infiltrated most parts of life and there are some things that are becoming difficult to do without using it.

Unfortunately, one of those processes is accessing important benefits which many older people rely on to support themselves financially.

Now, we assume that, as you are reading this online, you might be quite comfortable ‘surfing the net’, or you may have a patient family member or friends helping you to do so. If so, we urge you to think about any of your friends, family members, or even work colleagues, who may struggle to access online-only services which could improve their lives greatly.

Who’s affected?

Age UK reports that 5.3 million people in the UK do not use the internet. Of those, 91% are over the age of 55, accounting for 4.8 million people who are prevented from accessing benefits which are only accessible through online processes.

Those benefits include Housing Benefit and Pension Credit, which can be invaluable for pensioners who struggle to survive on their basic income.

Unclaimed Pension Credits totalled £3.3 billion in 2015/16 (DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), and it is believed that an inability to access the application is behind a portion of that figure.

Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager, Centre for Ageing Better commented: “Digital by default makes sense for much of society, but in the drive for efficiency we must not lose sight of the reality that some people won’t ever go online or will have limited ability to use the internet. Companies, government, and services who are moving operations online need to ensure that these people don’t get locked out of access to information and essential services such as banking, health information, booking appointments or paying bills.”

Can you help someone overcome this problem?

We don’t like to make assumptions, and we know that older people are not naturally averse to using technology and accessing services on the internet. But, we do know that there are a lot of older people who are missing out on money which could help them to live a better life in retirement.

Maybe you are related to them? Work with them? Meet up for coffee with them?

It can be hard to talk about financial issues, but simply showing that you care and offering to help someone who is struggling to claim the benefits they are entitled to could change the life of someone you care about.

What to do if someone you know needs help

There are three main options available to help those who are prevented from accessing online claim processes:

1. Do it for them

With 74% of non-internet users claiming that nothing could persuade them to their mind, it may be necessary to either fill out the claim on your friend’s behalf, or find someone who can, Such as a relative, carer or partner. This is accepted by the organisations processing claims, and there will be an opportunity to declare that you are completing the form on behalf of someone else during the process.

It is worth considering whether you are able to commit to doing this regularly, as some processes will need to be repeated regularly throughout the claimant’s life, especially if their personal circumstances are likely to change.

2. Show them how to do it themselves

If they are willing, it may be worth investing some time in showing your friends or relative how to make online claims by themselves. Even if they need someone to sit with them each time ‘just in case’ the feeling of autonomy and independence is usually worth it. Furthermore, this could open the door to a new hobby or interest, if they decide to become more active on the internet.

Just because someone chooses not to use the internet, doesn’t necessarily mean they are incapable of doing so. 7% of over-75s have previously had access to the internet but have not used it within the past three months. If that is the case, then rather than teaching them to use the internet, they may simply need a reminder or quick refresh of their existing skills.

Put them in touch with expert help

Many organisations are able to help older people access services which may be out of reach. This is not necessarily limited to online benefit claims but can include a range of processes which pensioners may find difficult to complete without support. These organisations include: