Thousands of households lose Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support after being excluded

Hundreds of thousands of older UK households are failing to receive the financial aid they're entitled to due to being "digitally excluded". A report has warned that people are blocked from getting Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support because they have no internet access.

A recent study by charity Age UK revealed that a significant number of older Brits on low incomes are not receiving these benefits because they aren't able to apply online. The latest Government figures suggest around 310,000 pensioner households are missing out on vital Housing Benefit despite being eligible.

Age UK believes this is largely due to many being unable to use the websites where they have to make a claim. Council Tax Support, also called Council Tax Benefit and Council Tax Reduction, is a scheme that can write off some or all of your council tax bill. But it's believed that overall, 2.7 million people are missing out on £2.8 billion of this support in the UK.

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Entirely separate to the 25 per cent deduction offered to single occupants, the scheme's eligibility criteria will vary according to your specific local authority.

Birmingham City Council says that people may be entitled to up to 100 per cent Council Tax Support - meaning their bill is slashed to zero - if they are a pensioner; claim a disability benefit such as PIP on top of ESA (Employment and Support Allowance); are entitled to a disability premium for themselves or a child; receive a carer's premium; are on War Disablement Pension, War Widow's Pension, or War Widower's Pension; or are caring for a child dependant aged five or under. Council Tax Support is a means-tested benefit so the amount each household will have to pay towards their council tax will depend on their financial circumstances.

Age UK conducted research involving 220 phone calls to 110 councils across England and Wales to discover what alternatives were available for those wishing to apply for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support but who couldn't use online systems. It found that callers were often told they could seek help at council offices or libraries but only after persistent questioning.

Four callers weren't able to speak to a member of staff in person, and 16 weren't offered an alternative way to apply or given any assistance from the council. There were also cases where different staff members from the same council provided inconsistent information about offline options when more than one call was made, leading to a "massive postcode lottery", reports the Mirror.

The charity is raising concerns that being disconnected from the digital world or not feeling at ease with online systems is creating a significant hurdle for older individuals to access financial support they're legally entitled to. Age UK's findings reveal that approximately 2.3 million people over the age of 65 don't use the internet, with nearly half (48 per cent) of these being 75 or older.

Age UK is calling on local authorities to provide at least one appropriate offline alternative for those unable to access internet services and to make their offline contact information more accessible. The charity also emphasised the Government's vital role in ensuring these options are available across the country.

Caroline Abrahams CBE, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "It's quite wrong that if you are an older person who is offline, your ability to apply for financial support you badly need depends so much on where you happen to live it is clearly much easier to do in some places, compared to others.

"Some councils are doing a good job in supporting older people who can't use online systems to apply for help in other ways... however in a minority of cases, no offline option was on offer at all. What would have happened to a 'real' older person who had rung up and asked to apply for Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction in another way in one of these localities? It seems to us that they would have been unable to do so, unless they had the support of a family member or friend who was au fait with computers, to help them get through the process online."

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