The Digital Poverty Alliance (DPA), Disability Rights UK, and Silver Voices have teamed up to emphasise the impact that the planned digital switchover of UK landlines could have on vulnerable citizens. Around 95% of people aged over 65 and other at-risk individuals may experience difficulties as a result of the national landline switch off, due to occur by December 2025.
Silver Voices has spearheaded a national petition to prompt a review of the switchover timetable, in hopes of pushing back the date to 2030. In showing their support for the petition, the DPA and Disability Rights UK aim to raise awareness about the numerous difficulties expected to affect millions of people across the nation. They are also calling for telephony providers to launch a publicity campaign about the matter at hand.
This transition to digital landlines is expected to present a host of challenges, as many individuals lack the necessary resources or understanding of the process. Uncertainties surrounding the switchover have led to concerns about personal safety and ethical practices. The three organisations involved are asking for increased efforts to spread awareness of these potential issues.
In light of these concerns, UK Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan has encouraged all providers not to force customers to switch over until enhanced protections are put in place - a point planned for the end of 2023. Donelan has announced that moving vulnerable users to digital landline services will require the service provider, customer or telecare company to confirm that they have a compatible and working care solution in place.
However, the DPA, Disability Rights UK, and Silver Voices stress that many customers are not being informed of the necessity to tell their telephone providers about their age or health conditions. Furthermore, existing customer records are not current, posing a threat to the wellbeing of disabled and older people if the switchover is not handled wisely.
Elizabeth Anderson, CEO of the DPA, drew attention to the potential hardships that may be experienced by the approximately 1.8 million vulnerable and elderly landline users in the UK. She warned of the heightened risks of isolation and of not being able to access digital technology or to establish connectivity with a new digital or mobile device.
Mentioning the affordability issues brought on by the current cost-of-living crisis and digital literacy limitations among elderly people, Anderson said: “There needs to be greater communication around the switchover and fuller guidance widely shared from the telecom providers."
"Many aren’t aware that digital phones won’t work in a power cut now, and until everyone has universal access, emergency coverage and the skills to set up new services, we are concerned that millions could be disadvantaged.” Aside from this, she also pointed out the connectivity issues faced by people living in rural areas, who may not have mobile signals to reach critical emergency services in times of need.
Similarly echoing the same concerns on behalf of Silver Voices, Director Dennis Reed emphasised the significant implications that the rushed and under-publicised infrastructural changes could have on vulnerable individuals. "Politicians must get to grips with what is happening to thousands of vulnerable customers," he said. As such, the group is urging the government to delay the switchover timetable by at least five years.
According to Kamran Mallick, the Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, many people are not aware of the switchover, and the telecoms providers are not being transparent on the immediate impacts of the transition. He argued that companies such as BT need to take a proactive leadership role in the process while also calling upon the government and regulators to protect citizens against rising costs and undisclosed switchovers.