According to recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics, there are approximately five million UK adults who have never used the internet. and14% of UK households do not have internet access.
Despite these figures, as we know, many UK businesses such as banks, utility providers and telecoms companies have put more and more emphasis on digital communication as part of their approach to customer services. Banks have encouraged customers to switch to online-only accounts. Energy companies offer lower costs if you abandon the traditional paper bill. Even the Government is keen to push as many public services as possible online. All of these changes have been based on the assumption that it will be faster and easier for customers.
They would have you believe that people who don’t want to manage their affairs online represent an insignificant minority, clinging on to an out-dated and impractical system. Well, I for one don’t believe that 10% of the population is insignificant! And it’s not just older people, who you might think are just not coming to terms with the new technology. It may surprise you to know that although the young have grown up with computers as the norm, one in every 100 16-25 year olds have never been online.
Our latest supporter, Youth Access, which offers young people advice information and counselling, also says that in their experience, “many young people - particularly the most disadvantaged – are rather less tech-savvy than they are often portrayed and struggle to deal with practical issues and problems online”.
These are people who are starting to become independent, perhaps moving away from home for the first time (A-level results this week will mean many are off to university), managing their own affairs for the first time. That’s daunting enough and you would think service providers would be looking to help them, rather than taking away the humble piece of paper, which can be the key to understanding finances better. And don’t just take the latter from me – our research in February found people’s understanding of their finances was massively improved if they received the information on paper, and they also made better financial decisions than those who received it online.
With so many people facing debt - based on annual figures up to the end of March 2015, Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales are dealing with 6,323 debt problems every working day – it surely can’t be right to set our young people up for a financial fall just because companies are insisting that everything is managed online.
One size doesn’t fit all, and there are enough consumers out there – young and old – who need their bills and statements by post and who are being let down.