lder people are at risk of being excluded from services and support in an ever-more digital world as councils potentially fail to fulfil their equality duties, a charity has said.
Age UK said its research had found older people reporting difficulties in applying for a blue badge – available for disabled people to help with more convenient parking – due to having to do so online.
Less than a quarter of the 61 local organisations run by the charity in England and Wales, who responded to their survey, said it was easy for people who are offline to find out about and apply for a blue badge in their area.
One in six organisations said people needed to use the internet in order to apply for a blue badge, and about two-thirds said people were also having difficulties accessing other council services offline such as housing-related services.
Millions of older people are not computer users at all and are at serious risk of being excluded from services and support to which they are just as entitled as everyone else, unless really good offline alternatives are made available and properly publicised to them
The charity said age and disability – both of which can be factors in digital exclusion – are protected characteristics under the Equality Act and therefore covered by the Public Service Equality Duty.
Age UK’s report stated: “Councils should be considering equality considerations in the design of policies and the delivery of services.
“So, if councils are not providing suitable non-digital alternative ways to apply for benefits it can be argued that they are not fulfilling their duties under the Act.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “The digitisation of local services is accelerating but it’s important for councils to remember that not everyone is online.
“In fact, millions of older people are not computer users at all and are at serious risk of being excluded from services and support to which they are just as entitled as everyone else, unless really good offline alternatives are made available and properly publicised to them.”
The Local Government Association, which represents most councils in England and Wales, said councils are making efforts to ensure access to people who might not be online.
James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Digitising application processes can make it easier and more convenient for many residents to use, and enables councils to speed up delivery of many services. However, councils are also working hard to ensure this is not at the expense of older people who are not online.
“Councils have taken steps to ensure those who are digitally excluded can access services such as applying for a blue badge. This includes assistance offered by staff with the application process in council facilities, including libraries, community centres and council offices.
“Councils are in a key position to tackle digital exclusion in their communities but have received little strategic guidance from the Government.
“That is why it is important that the Government publishes a new framework with national-level guidance, resources and tools that support local digital inclusion initiatives.”