Thousands missing out on DWP benefits due to 'postcode lottery'

A charity has issued a stark warning that thousands of older people on low incomes are failing to receive the financial aid they're entitled to due to being digitally excluded.

Many are not claiming benefits they're eligible for because they don't know how to apply online. Government figures suggest that around 310,000 pensioner households who should be receiving Housing Benefit aren't.

For older folk looking to apply for Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Reduction, it's a bit of a postcode lottery if they're not computer savvy.

Read more: One week warning to Housing Benefit claimants

Age UK's report highlights that it's those on lower incomes who are most likely to miss out, which they describe as "intrinsically unfair".

The report comes in the wake of complaints from older people and their families about the challenges of accessing services and entitlements without internet access.

The research involved making 220 phone calls to 110 councils across England and Wales to discover what options were available for those wanting to apply for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction but unable to use online systems.

It was found that callers were told they could seek help at council offices or libraries, but only after persistent questioning.

Alarmingly, four callers couldn't get through to speak to anyone, and 16 weren't offered any means of applying independently or any assistance from the council.

There were also instances where different council employees gave varying information to mystery shoppers about their offline options when multiple calls were made, leading to a "massive postcode lottery".

Around 1.9 million elderly people in the UK live in poverty and often struggle to meet essential costs.

Many are unaware that they could be eligible for financial support worth hundreds of pounds extra per month.

The charity is concerned that being offline or not being comfortable using online systems creates an additional barrier for older people to receive financial help to which they are legally entitled.

As people age, the levels of digital exclusion continue to rise.

Approximately 2.3 million over 65s do not use the internet at all, and almost half (48 per cent) of these people are aged 75+.

Age UK is urging councils to provide at least one suitable offline option for those who cannot use offline services, as well as make their offline contact details easier to find.

It believes that central Government has a crucial role in ensuring that offline options remain available locally, as well as nationally. It is calling on the Government to:.

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."

"Given that we know more than half (54 per cent) of people aged 65+ have paid council tax or other council services online and four per cent had not been comfortable doing so, it is unacceptable that there is no guarantee that offline older people will be able to apply for the financial help to which they are entitled, and which could make a valuable difference to their standard of living, without recourse to a computer."

"Older people often tell us they are completely fed up with the drift towards 'digital by default', without enough thought being given to where that leaves the millions who can't or don't want to use the internet, or whose digital skills are too limited to use online systems some of which are not very user-friendly in any event."

"".

"There's absolutely no problem in giving people the opportunity to access goods and services via the internet, that suits some of us of all ages very well but this mustn't be at the cost of shutting out those for whom this doesn't work at all".