Coronavirus: Millions of pensioners will be scared says expert
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As part of BT’s digital changeover, scheduled for 2025, will be scrapped in favour of digital handsets powered by electricity. However, Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, highlighted what she saw as a key flaw in the proposals.
She warned: “If there is a power cut, this digital phone line will no longer work – and a potential lifeline for elderly people will be suddenly lost.
“Those needing to make an emergency call or raise an alarm via a health pendant could be left stranded – and unable to call anyone to ask for life-saving support.”
As things stand, roughly six percent of households – equating to 1.5 million homes – lack internet access, according to Ofcom.
People living in these properties are likely to need an engineer to visit to in order to set them up with the new technology, and anyone with older phones may have to buy a new handset.
However, Ms Shortt warned millions more either did not have a mobile phone, or were unable to use one effectively.
She said: “BT has no idea that many older people do not want a fancy smartphone or cannot afford one – and rely on their landline as a lifeline.
“It is wrong to discriminate against those – primarily the elderly – who are not wired up to the internet.”
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Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, added: “Given that about half of older people over the age of 75 are not online, this could be a particular problem for our oldest citizens.”
Telecoms providers are obliged to make sure all households have access to the emergency services – although they can fulfil this by providing a mobile phone free of charge.
Openreach, which operates more of Britain’s wire and cable infrastructure, insists the protection of its most vulnerable customers is “an absolute priority”.
The company plans to install ultra-fast full fibre broadband in 25 million households by the end of 2026.
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BT’s switchover, which it has dubbed Digital Voice, started in 2019, with two million landlines converted to date.
Ofcom guidelines require BT to ensure customers can contact emergency services in a power cut lasting more than an hour.
However, it is unclear how that will be achieved in the case of anyone who loses access from an internet phone, or who does not have a mobile phone or signal.
As an added layer of complication, Ms Abrahams also suggested the changeover to result in criminals trying to scam pensioners.
She explained: “We are concerned the changes could make many elderly feel more isolated than they do already.
“Steps must also be taken to ensure the vulnerable do not become victims of any digital voice scams.”
Advice carried on BT’s website states: “When it comes to the actual telephone service, most people will likely notice little difference.
“Just three percent of UK households have a landline connection with no broadband. Eventually, everyone will need a broadband connection to make and receive landline phone calls.
However, most people will be able to keep using their current landline handsets with a Voice over Internet Protocol [VoIP] adaptor.”
BT adds: “If you don’t currently have broadband, don’t worry. The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has said that providers must offer basic internet connections for phone calls only.
“You won’t need to fork out for a superfast connection that you don’t intend to use.”
Express.co.uk has contacted BT and Openreach for further details.
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