I don’t know why I haven’t really thought about this before. Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older, but when did the world change to become a much more greedy and intolerant place? Especially to the older generation.
I’ll give you an example. When I was young – which was a while ago now – you’d go to a car park and get a ticket that you stuck in your window. In those days they were transferable. So if you bought three hours’ worth and you ended up only parking for half an hour you would REGULALRY hand it to someone just coming in saying ‘is this any good to you? It’s got two and a half hours left on it.’
I used to LOVE this. It was just so nice. The parking space was already paid for, you didn’t need it any more – why not hand it over to some passing stranger who then got a free parking space?
Well no. We can’t have that. Good grief, two or more cars using the same space for a length of time only paying once? Oh no, dear me no. Let’s make people have to put their car’s reg into the machine so we can charge as much as possible for the same parking space
This change made me sad. It took away a chance for someone to be kind to a stranger.
Now, of course, it seems car parks are becoming increasingly discriminatory. My parents are getting a bit older and I spend time with my mother-in-law who doesn’t have a smart phone, credit card or the internet I can see how the world has made life so much more difficult for people like her. Many car parks nowadays won’t accept cash. So my mother-in-law can’t park there. She hasn’t got a smart phone or card. She prefers dealing in cash. Nothing wrong with that surely?
Last week I was horrified to see how much elderly relatives were paying for their water bills. Over FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS a year because they weren’t on a meter. I’ve got two teenagers showering a million times a day and our bill is about 180 quid. My relatives had had no idea they could get a meter and also had no idea that if they were on a state pension they would qualify for a discount of FIFTY PERCENT on their bill.
They don’t have the internet. They don’t have email. They find it impossible to ring customer service when their landline phone is in the hall – where it’s cold as they’ve turned the heating off to keep the bills low – because they can’t see well enough to push the buttons when they hear ‘press one for billing’. Or they get in a flap because they can’t remember the options and can’t press the numbers quickly enough.
I spent an hour or two on my phone doing some research for them. I discovered that with a meter and living on their own, they could bring down their bill to around £180. With the watersave discount (as they were just on a normal state pension) it brought it down to £90 a year. NINETY POUNDS A YEAR, instead of FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY.
Now I’m no technological genius but I found out the information fairly easily – but for them, finding this stuff out was impossible.
Now here comes the problem. Every company in the world wants you to use the internet to contact them. Well, my elderly relatives don’t have the internet. That’s their decision and their right and they shouldn’t have to be forced into getting internet if they don’t want it.
However, what it means is all they can do is phone customer services. (They don’t have whats app either) As they found the thought of this rather anxiety inducing, I offered to do it for them.
This is what happened.
I called the water company. I pressed the numbers to get to the right department. After ten minutes I got to the point where I could enter the account number and date of birth. Great, I thought – nearly there. The minute I typed in 11/1/1926 the phone hung up.
My elderly relative immediately threw his hands into the air and said, ‘Oh give up, it’s not worth it.’
I was getting quite cross by this time and said – ‘No I’m not giving up – I’m going to keep trying.’
Now I was on the sofa on my smart phone with a cup of tea at my elbow. I was happy to wait. I was going to bloody sort this if it killed me. And I was comfortable. My relative, as I said, would have been standing in the hall, freezing cold, with arthritic hands and a dodgy knee. Ten minutes being on hold would have been too much for him.
So I phoned again. It took TWENTY minutes of being on hold before I got through to a human being. There is absolutely no way he would have had the patience or stamina to wait this long.
The good news is that once I got through to the water company they were delightful. They told me about all the benefits available including priority service – so that if the water went down he would be one of the first in line to get bottled water and so on – also that he could have a password on his account so that if anyone saying they were from the water board came down they would need to give a password. Brilliant. I also managed to get the meter appointment made and the low-income discount applied.
This took, in total TWO HOURS on the phone.
And don’t get me started on banks. I understand – everyone is using online banking – I do it myself. But my elderly relatives want to go to a bank and speak to a person. They don’t hear well on the phone – and also they don’t want to stand in the cold in the front hall with a gammy leg for half an hour. But the banks are closing their branches. It’s not economical. I understand that. But these elderly customers have been with your company for their whole working life. Don’t abandon them now.
Now don’t get me wrong – I know there are absolute scores of people in their 70s and beyond who are tech savvy, physically in great shape, and have no problem using the internet and phone. But there are many who aren’t, and I worry about how they cope. How many of them have massive bills because they don’t know about discounts available to them? How do they find out if they don’t have the internet?
I don’t know what the answer is. ‘Don’t get old,’ my gran said to me when I was in my 20s, and now I’m in my 50’s I know what she meant! But, it we are very lucky – we’ll all get old and won’t understand the latest technology. ‘I don’t want to have a chip in my head, son! I’ll just use my banking app like I always did,’ I imagine myself saying.
We want to be an inclusive and diverse society. We have made huge strides in challenging racism, sexism, homophobia and the like. But what about the elderly population? Are we making sure they are included? Shouldn’t they be able to park to go and see a show? Get some money from a bank? Know about how they can get help to afford their bills?
I don’t know what the answer is – but it made me very angry seeing the bewilderment and frustration elderly relatives go through. Thank you for reading my rant and let’s hope companies will listen do something to ensure their older customers are heard and supported as much as anyone else.
2 thoughts on “Old Age Rage”
I understand that frustration, before my mother died at 90 years old, I was taking care of most of that type of thing for her and while I was able to do so I also realized how much more isolated she became because I was doing it for her and believe me I needed to. The senior center in our town has people come in to help with bills and taxes etc and if they can get there it is wonderful as they get out and see that other people are in the same boat and there are people willing to help.
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That’s a lovely idea!
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