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Coronavirus: Lack of older people accessing public services online 'concerning' says charity

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Only 35% of people over 65 in Northern Ireland use the internet to access public services, newly published figures have revealed.

Only 35% of people over 65 in Northern Ireland use the internet to access public services, newly published figures have revealed.

Only 35% of people over 65 in Northern Ireland use the internet to access public services, newly published figures have revealed.

Some 65% of older people in Northern Ireland do not access public services through online channels, leading to concern about their welfare during the coronavirus pandemic.

A survey conducted by the Northern Ireland Statistic and Research Agency (NISRA) in 2018, and published on Friday, showed that only 35% of those over the age of 65 had accessed a public service online in the previous 12 months.

This age group was the lowest proportion using online channels to access public services- such as viewing health records, applying for a driving licences or applying for benefits.

This has lead to fears that older people in Northern Ireland will be particularly isolated during the coronavirus epidemic which has seen the government advise those with underlying health problems to self-isolate. Those over 70 are also expected to be advised to totally isolate themselves in the coming weeks.

Charity Age NI said access to online services was a particular concern for older people, particularly during in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Linda Robinson, chief executive of Age NI said it was important older people were aware of the facts surrounding the crisis.

"Age NI has seen a 24% increase in calls to our Advice and Advocacy Service from older people who are concerned about the current situation," she said.

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Commissioner for Older People Eddie Lynch

Commissioner for Older People Eddie Lynch

@Press Eye/Darren Kidd

Commissioner for Older People Eddie Lynch

"This is why newspapers are an important channel for older people to find out reliable and up to date information relating to Covid-19.

"We are working closely with our partners within the Age Sector who are providing vital practical support and reassurance at a community level."

She encouraged people to keep in contact with older family members, friends and neighbours, offer to help when possible.

The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, said the coronavirus outbreak was a "extremely worrying time for older people".

"Good, reliable information is essential to help older people protect themselves and others in the coming weeks. While many older people are online, these statistics highlight the imminent need for a dedicated phone line that older people can call during this uncertain time," Mr Lynch said.

"The guidelines surrounding coronavirus are ever changing and, understandably, some older people may feel overwhelmed by the complexity of information coming their way. Older people will have to 'shield' themselves for a prolonged period of time in the coming months and it is vital that they have the peace of mind that they can call someone if they need help with essentials such as food and prescribed medication.

"I am working hard to get a dedicated phone line for older people to be put in place as soon as possible. This line can help to ensure that the anxieties older people face during this pandemic are minimised."

The NISRA report also shows that almost three quarters (73.4%) of people aged 16 and over have used public services through the internet.

A similar proportion of 18-24 year olds (87%), 25-34 year olds (90%) and 35-49 year olds (90%) have accessed public services online.

Other public services available online include booking GP appointments, completing tax returns, finding out about benefit entitlements and renewing passports.

Age NI can be contacted for advice and advocacy services on 0808 808 75 75.

Belfast Telegraph