More evidence of "online creep"

6th March 2014

We received an interesting – and worrying – email this week, asking if the campaign would please expand to include communications from the Government.

Our correspondent had attended a meeting in Hull, where a speaker from the Department for Work and Pensions had been engaged to explain the various benefits available to people with long-term medical conditions. All was going well, until the speaker mentioned, in passing, that the DWP intended to move to online-only application forms for people under 65. 

According to our writer “There was a lot of protest in the group”, many of them making the same points that we have made at Keep Me Posted – What if you haven’t got a computer? What if you can’t use a computer? And, importantly for those with long-term conditions, what if you’re too ill to get out of bed?

The answer that they could always nip along to their local library, or get a friend, relative or social worker to fill in webforms goes back to our perennial argument. Why should people perfectly capable of dealing with their own affairs be obliged to hand over intimate information just because they are not online?

Though our campaign is very much to do with correspondence from the likes of banks, utilities and communications suppliers, this case highlighted the creeping nature of the problem - without being at this meeting, how and when would they have heard about the changes? Probably not until it was a fait accompli.

HMRC has been forced to think again about obliging everyone to file VAT forms online after losing a case when it was shown that not providing adequate exemptions for older people, disabled people or those in parts of the country too remote for broadband was a breach of human rights.

Maybe that case should give the DWP pause for thought before rolling out this this new drive to force people online to apply for benefits. We’d be delighted to hear your thoughts.

Judith Donovan