Financial services – access all areas?

The Government has taken an important step forward in ensuring that financial services work for older people. It proposed an amendment to the Financial Services Act which, for the first time, gives the regulator a mandate not just to protect consumers, but also to ask whether consumers can access the products and services they need.

Age UK has been calling for the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to be given this ‘access mandate’.  We’ve been convinced of the need for the regulator to look at access because of what we hear from older people – we see many problems caused not just by dangerous products that consumers should be protected from but also because of the lack of products and services that are really accessible to older people.

200x160_moneyBarriers vary:  it could be direct age discrimination – being told you’re ‘too old’ for a mortgage, or credit card, or insurance.  Or it could be indirect, having to jump through so many hoops to find and obtain the right kind of insurance that you give up.   Often the design of services mean they just don’t work for large groups of older people – for example relying on text messages for updates and removing paper statements will make it harder for many older people to manage their money well, the reduction of the branch network and poorly designed telephone and online banking systems will make it almost impossible for others to manage independently at all.
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Ban on Age Discrimination

This blog was contributed by Alison Fenney, Age UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Policy Adviser.

Age discrimination is the most common form of discrimination in the UK and Age UK has campaigned long and hard for legislation to deal with this.  The Government’s recent announcement that the ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods and services (with the exception of financial services), will finally come into force on October 1 2012, is therefore very welcome news.

We hope this legislation will herald a sea change in society’s view of older people, a view too often characterised by an emphasis on biological decline and economic burden ignoring the contribution offered by older people in employment, volunteering and in  caring for partners, children and other family members. 

The most positive aspect of this legislation is the impact it will have in health and social care services. For example, in cancer care we know that age is a key factor in determining survival, in part because older people are currently under treated and experience poorer outcomes as a result. The Department of Health itself acknowledges that older people currently receive worse outcomes in treatment of cancer as the result of age discrimination.

We are also expecting to see changes in mental health services which frequently discriminate against older people not offering them access to the range of services available to younger adults despite having the same need.

However the legislation is not an unmitigated cause for celebration. The wide exception that has been granted to the financial services industry is very disappointing. This exception means that older people can for example still be discriminated against when trying to obtain insurance or banking services purely on the basis of their age.

We accept providers of risk-related services should be able to use age to assess risk and decide price provided that they can supply evidence that they are doing so in a way that is proportionate to risk. However we do not feel that the exception will ensure that this condition is met. We know that ageism in financial services causes worry and distress for many older people, limiting their choices and increasing costs. We will therefore continue to press for financial services to be subject to the ban and urge the Government to keep the impact of this exception under close scrutiny.

Overall the legislation is very welcome, requiring those providing services to consider their practices and policies in relation to older people. However by itself, it will not be sufficient to change negative attitudes towards ageing.  Ultimately we need to learn how to value older people better, appreciating their talents and not just seeing a date on a passport. The ban on age discrimination is a welcome step towards this.

Age UK is pressing to ensure goods, services and job opportunities are accessible to people of all ages and from all communities. Find out more about our equalities and human rights work.

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