Offline and shut out

Dawn Stobart explains how lacking internet access is shutting people out of essential public and financial services.

Offline and shut out

With the push for services to become digital by default, what happens to those who are left behind?

Lacking internet access leaves people shut out of essential public and financial services, and unable to get the best deals. New findings from CAP clients show that as many as one in five are disadvantaged in this way.

From a survey of 1,210 CAP clients, 22 percent did not have internet access at home or on a smartphone. This is twice the national average, despite only 11% percent of the respondents being over 65.

Initial presumptions would suggest that it is the elderly who are digitally excluded, but this is not the case. Although statistics do indicate that those over 40 are more likely to lack internet access, this is not the whole story. Those in financial difficulty, people with certain health conditions or disabilities and the elderly are all more likely to be digitally excluded.

Being offline makes tasks that could take a few minutes long and tedious. Searching for work, using price comparison websites, applying for benefits and managing money all become much more difficult. In addition to those who lacked internet access completely, a further 10 percent of respondents only access the internet via a smartphone and therefore struggle to complete involved tasks online.

While public services offer internet access, they realistically fail to provide a solution for many. Less than a quarter (23 percent) of those who did not have personal internet access used a library or similar service. Restricted opening times, high demand for computers and poor digital skills all act as barriers. For instance, one CAP client who had been out of work for four years found most jobs required an online application, but time limits on library computers made this difficult and she was reluctant to enter personal information on the computers at her local library.

As digital services inevitably become more commonplace, there remains a need to accommodate those who are digitally excluded. There is evidence of this being done well, for example in the Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation into competition in the payday lending market. While the main remedy was through price comparison websites, the CMA ensured that there were other non-digital remedies in place as well. With the Financial Conduct Authority’s emphasis on ‘treating customers fairly’ there is a challenge for all of us to offer services accessible to everyone.

The wider public policy context of this discussion is also important for us in the credit industry. When customers cannot get a job, or apply for the benefits they need, debt easily accumulates and it becomes difficult to make repayments. It is in the credit industry’s best interest to help the digitally excluded.

These figures remind us that we do not have complete digital inclusion and therefore offline channels need to remain open. In order to prevent financial and digital exclusion we need to ensure all can access the services they need and are entitled to, regardless of digital access, literacy and financial capability.

Read CAP’s Offline and shut out briefing here.