Making it easier to manage direct payments

This blog was contributed by Barbara Limon, Policy Programme Manager – Consumer and Community. 

Increasingly older people who are in receipt of funded social care are choosing to take this funding as direct payments, meaning they control the funds themselves.  Whilst there are advantages of being in control in this way we’ve found that the process of managing the cash could be made easier for older people.

direct paymentsIn our report ‘Direct payments for social care – options for managing the cash we look at what some the issues are and have identified potential solutions.  The report covers both the ‘traditional’ method of managing direct payments, via bank accounts, and at newer methods using prepaid cards.

Most of the problems we found are not new – they are simply the day to day difficulties which many older people experience in managing their money and paying for things.  Solving the problems highlighted in the report would also solve many of the on-going difficulties older people have in relation to financial services. For example, Chip and PIN card technology has generally been considered a success, but the need to remember and type in a PIN can act as a barrier to independent use of payments. Continue reading “Making it easier to manage direct payments”

Green Deal performance data

Ahead of publishing the June Green Deal statistics, which the Department obviously knew were woefully disappointing, it went into overdrive to set out positive aspects of the scheme. It published data showing that energy efficient housing commanded a premium price over unimproved homes.  It released opinion survey data reporting rising awareness and rising interest in the Green Deal. But the tangible performance record is desperately poor. Age UK is not finger-pointing and dancing for joy:  the Green Deal and associated ECO (Energy Company Obligation) is the only show currently in town, and thus in the drive to address fuel poverty, and it needs to work – dramatically.

The ECO part, where energy companies install free or subsidised measures, is440x210_handyvan1 the closest we get to a silver lining. There were nearly 82,000 measures installed in the four months to April. The percentage of these going to low income households (those qualifying for the Affordable Warmth or Carbon Saving Communities) was nearly 70% (or about 170,000 per year if aggregated upwards), and most of the measures were loft insulation (56%), hard-to-treat cavity wall insulation (33%) and replacement boilers (10%). This installation performance suggests that households were not getting the comprehensive makeover which would make them ‘fuel-poverty-proof’, and barely dents the fuel poverty headcount of about 6m households in the UK. Continue reading “Green Deal performance data”

Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives

It may be measured in baby steps, but at last the Department of Health (DH) is acknowledging the importance of cold homes, and living in fuel poverty, to the health debate.

Age UK’s lobbying and campaigning on fuel poverty issues is strongly grounded on the health implications – the ill-health arising from not keeping adequately warm, measured both in terms of human suffering and costs to the NHS – so this engagement by the DH is a significant advance.  Two short reports from Age UK have looked at recent public health initiatives to assess their impact.

aOne is concerned with the Warm Homes Healthy People programme.  This was announced as a ‘one-off’ in 2011, then repeated in 2012.

It was a £20m prize pot to which local authorities were invited to bid, provided their proposals were to address ‘winter pressures’, and provided they were doing so in partnership with the local voluntary and community groups.

It stimulated a remarkable range of varied activities, from clearing snow and going shopping in adverse weather, to providing hot meals and issuing ‘winter survival packs’, to checking electric blankets and checking benefit entitlements.

It drove a wave of local, community activity, and local Age UK partners were substantially involved. This report looks at their experience of the project, and it is overwhelmingly supportive. Continue reading “Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives”

Green Deal officially launched

The avowed ambition of the Green Deal is to offer everyone the opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of their home at no up-front cost, so enabling them to make it warmer and cheaper to run.   Given that a third of our general housing stock is occupied by older households, Age UK obviously supports any initiative which will improve the quality and energy efficiency of our homes.   That is particularly important because with the introduction of the Green Deal, all the existing programmes which have operated in this field in the past, such as Warm Front and the insulation programme CERT run by the energy companies, are now closed.

The design of the Green Deal invites the householder to call the Energy Saving Advice Service (on 0300 123 1234) to find a Green Deal Provider – a private sector company accredited and monitored by the Government. This Provider will then arrange for an Assessor to visit, and identify the relevant steps which could be taken (such as insulation, new boiler, radiator valves etc). The  220x220_woman_adjusting_thermostatrecommended work must meet the ‘golden rule’ that the cost of getting this work done would reduce the household’s spending on energy by a greater amount – so saving the householder money. A Green Deal Plan will then be prepared for the householder to agree to, an authorised Installer would then arrive to do the work, and a repayment plan will be devised which will be added to (the now reduced) electricity bill for an agreed period. In effect, the loan is a debt on the energy meter, not on the householder, and gets passed on if the house is bought and sold. Continue reading “Green Deal officially launched”

Barriers to food shopping for older people

This blog was contributed by Gretel Jones, Policy Officer (Consumer Markets) at Age UK. 

Older people are an important and growing consumer group.  For the first time, there are more people aged over 65 than under 16 in the UK.  This growth in the older population is estimated to continue for the foreseeable future.

From a business point of view, older consumers are the only growing market there is.  Sadly, although the Government has recognised the implications of an ageing society on public services, the same does not seem to be the case for the private sector.  Many marketers do not understand or address the older population and consequently this is a segment that often gets misrepresented, neglected or ignored.

Difficulties in getting to the shops

Difficulties increased with age.  While only 8% of 60 to 64 year olds had difficulty this rose to 19% for the 80 to 84s and 60% for those aged over 90.  This is very relevant given it is the older older age group that is estimated to be the fastest growing segment of older people.  This of course is exacerbated for people living in rural areas where public transport links are so poor.  Also relevant to the journey is the difficulty older people have in carrying heavy shopping home.

Difficulties in the store

Poor store layout, poor lighting, aisles that are too narrow and lack of seating and toilet facilities can cause problems. Deep trolleys and freezers make it hard to get shopping out and it is hard to reach up to the top shelf or down to the bottom ones.  Size of fonts on shelf labels can be too small for them to see.

A new problem is lack of confidence in using the self-service checkouts which are bound to be on the increase.

Meeting the needs of older people

Ease of opening of packaging is a constant criticism from older people. Vacuum packs, opening tins and jars and childproof bottles are particularly problematic. But equally difficult is the food information on the packs.  Often in print that is too small and with insufficient colour contrasts makes it difficult to read.

About 37% of older people live alone.  But a lot of other age groups do as well and it is estimated that there will be an 18% growth in single-person households by 2031.  Yet food retailers seem to target larger households which often increases the costs of food shopping for smaller ones.

Age UK’s new report, Food Shopping in Later Life, gives details on six of the shopping services provided by local Age UKs that aim to help older people to shop.  It also makes a number of recommendations for retailers that would be helpful for older people.

Read our new report Food Shopping in Later Life

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Post Office revamp: will it pass the consumer test?

The government has announced a much welcome £1.3bn investment to modernise the Post Office network. There will be changes to 6,000 branches over the next three years designed to halt the decline in Post Office branch numbers. However, a report from Consumer Focus warns that the idea still has teething problems.

Modernisation plan: Post Office Locals

Following the Post Office closure programme everyone is well aware that the network needs modernising to put it on a more financially sustainable footing.

The Post Office provides vital services for older people. In many areas the Post Office provides the only access to postal and financial services that are close to people’s homes.

Part of the investment plan will see 2,000 branches revamped as Post Office “Locals”. In these branches Post Office services will no longer be at a dedicated counter but offered from a main retail counter in existing premises.

Photo: Abigail Silvester (Creative Commons)

The Local will provide a core range of services, which are regularly used by Post Office customers. The focus is on quick and easy services at the counter, which means more complex services, such as paying paper-based bills or parcel pick-up services, will not be available.

In many cases existing Post Offices will be converted to this new model, but it could also mean Post Office service popping up in petrol stations, convenience stores or even the local pub.

Making sure it works for consumers

Consumer Focus research has looked at the consumer experience in the 105 pilot Post Office Locals, which are already operating. Their findings show both risks and opportunities in this new way of providing Post Office services.

On the one hand the report notes that longer opening hours and the convenient location of the stores was seen to be popular with customers. This is good news as convenient access to Post Offices is of particular concern to older people – an Age UK survey found 18% of older people currently find it difficult to get to their Post Office.

However, Consumer Focus reported there were a number of experiences reported by customers that need to be taken into account before the model is rolled out further:

  • Products and services range: One in five say Locals offer only some or few of the products they need.
  • Privacy for personal or sensitive transactions: Over a third of users find the privacy of Post Office Locals to be poor and 41% say it is worse than in traditional Post Offices.
  • Reliable and consistent services: The mystery shopper research found a Second Class letter was sold correctly in only one in five transactions.
  • Cash withdrawals: There were incidents where a cap was put on the amount of cash or benefits a consumer can withdraw.

Some of these points correlate with concerns older people already have with Post Office services. For instance, in an Age UK survey about existing Post Office services 21% would like more privacy at the counter.

The investment programme has to be seen as an opportunity to maintain universal access to Post Office services. There is still time for these issues to be ironed out to make sure consumers get the best results from the change.

 None of these concerns are insurmountable, but it does need the Post Office to act on the findings.

Last year, Age UK helped 500,000 people put £120million back in their pockets through free benefits information and advice. This year, we will continue to break down the barriers that prevent people from claiming, in particular older people not realising that they are eligible for some additional income. For more information, please visit

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A changing approach: inclusive design

The guest blog is written by Anna McConnell, a Product and Service Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

For too long industry has perceived inclusive design as ugly, expensive, time consuming and complicated. It’s time to stop focusing on the barriers and instead realise that demographic changes mean that inclusive design can help organisations become and remain competitive in our ageing society – by continuously assessing and interpreting the changing needs of their customers as they age in order to develop targeted and aspirational products and services to people of all ages.

Although difficult to definitively prove the economic benefits of inclusivity; design as a whole is difficult to quantify and focusing solely on the bottom may be misleading and may hide the bigger picture. Inclusive design practices can help organisations to see the world through their customers’ eyes and put people of all ages and abilities at the centre of their business strategy.

“Design for the young and you exclude the old; design for the old and you include the young”.  Bernard Isaacs, Founding Director of the Birmingham Centre for Applied Gerontology.

Large brands are beginning to take notice of this approach. Twinings and Unilever have both recently discussed their changing strategies on the Marketing Week website; Unilever’s senior vice-president of marketing, Marc Mathieu, says their strategy is more about real people rather than generic customers, “creating a brand that puts real people’s lives at the centre of everything, rather than consumers”.

Many companies have found significant financial success by applying Bernard Isaacs’ principle to the development of products and services; the BT Big Button 100 Telephone, developed in 1998, designed with the wider needs of all users in mind, is still one of their best sellers.

Internal investment in internal design and innovation can have very positive effects of the financial performance of organisations: “Product Design and Financial Performance”, “Valuing Design: Enhancing Corporate Performance through Design Effectiveness”, “Design Index: The Impact of Design of Stock Market Performance”, “How do Creativity and Design Enhance Business Performance? A framework for Interpreting the Evidence”, and “The Economic Effects of Design” have demonstrated positive effects to higher investment in design. These effects include increased sales, cash flow and revenue, lower costs, increased productivity, greater probability of innovation and increased stock market value.

Things are starting to change; businesses are rethinking the way they see older customers, moving away from our traditional ageist approaches to product development and marketing and to understanding the real value in an inclusive corporate strategy. Here at the Engage Business Network we work with companies to explore this growing market and give older people better choice of products and services.

Find out more about the Engage Business Network

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