The final fifth

To reach the people furthest away from online services, housing providers need to lead the way with some digital innovation, action and investment.

About a fifth of UK households do not have any or regular and reliable access to the internet. Of these, almost 40 per cent live in social housing. Providing this ‘final fifth’ of the population with all the benefits of online services is the prime focus of the Government’s digital inclusion strategy published in April.

The strategy aims to cut the numbers of UK citizens still offline by a quarter by 2016, then by a further 25% every two years until we become completely connected. The vision is for the sort of digitally-driven society already realised in South Korea and other web-pioneer nations.

With such a concentration of unconnected households in their communities, housing providers have a special duty and role to play in making this a reality. Digital inclusion links directly to financial inclusion. Online shopping saves households around £570 per year, and the need for web access to claim Universal Credit and pensions should mean it’s a top priority.

So far (and with a few noble exceptions), the housing sector has been slow to embrace and capitalise on digital technology, although most now acknowledge the urgent need for channel shift to more online working. Our advice from working with commercial clients is:

  • Don’t just focus on internet access – people’s skills, motivation to use the web and trust in online services are just as important. A recent Policy Exchange report pinpoints basic digital skills as a way to tackle social isolation and loneliness faced by a rapidly ageing population.
  • Desktops are dead – most residents will use online tools via their phone, so housing providers’ digital systems have to be designed this way and be affordable to use.
  • Play games – many customers (especially newer residents) are used to getting information from and interacting with other service providers via mobile phone games and fun apps. Housing needs to do the same by using gamification to bring its service offer into the 21st century.

Housing providers who know and are part of their communities are uniquely well placed to breakthrough to support the people who need most help to join the digital age.

Tell us about your strategy for making sure everyone can benefit from online services.

We can offer support on digital strategies, websites, apps and games to help all your customers benefit from the internet. Contact Rob Newell on 01455 883885 or 07540 419530.