LETTER: What purpose?

I’ve been computer programming since I was at school over 45 years ago and feel I am reasonably computer and internet savvy.

Online systems and email are not a problem. The same is not true for everyone and in particular people of previous generations.

My father (88) recently received a letter from the county council (not East Sussex) which advised him that they were introducing a new online system so that he could view his pension payments (it’s a local government pension scheme). He could view various related documents that the county would make available. He had the option to “opt out” by filling in a form to say he wanted to opt out. If not the county would send him a time-limited activation code.

Now imagine you are not internet literate. Computers and smart-phones are toys that the grandchildren play with. The most sophisticated thing you play with is the teletext on the TV. What does this document mean? A lot of elderly people are at best confused and at worst intimidated by what such forms mean and worry unnecessarily that they should be doing something. The phone number supplied is simply an automated voice telling you fill in the form if you want to opt out or leave a message and “someone will call you back”. There is an email address... IF it had been an opt-in system they could have said “send us an email if you want to use this facility and we will send you an authorisation code”. On receipt of email, the county would have known immediately that the person was computer literate and what’s more, had the wherewithal to access the system. It would also have saved everyone some unnecessary postage.

What they have done is, potentially, sent out authorisation codes which could be hijacked and then used by fraudsters to access and change someone’s pension details without any way of the pensioner concerned knowing anything about it... until they find that they have stopped receiving pension payments.

At best, they are simply wasting time and resources setting up a system that only a few people will use. Reading through the documentation, it seems that if my father were to opt out (or not use his authorisation code) he will still be in the same position he is now. This makes me wonder what the purpose of it is.

You can see in these times where government funding of councils has been cut back to the point where they simply don’t work any more. They’ve sold the family silver and they’ve cut back on staff. The few people they have left are desperately trying to automate as much as possible to save money.

This is as true for ESCC as it is for my father’s county. Hopefully, ESCC won’t do anything quite as inane as automatically including people in online systems who have no facility to access them, no idea how to use them if they had while causing them unnecessary stress and worry.

Rod Main

Northfield Close