Digital inclusion – both a business and a moral issue

18 Apr 2016 By Stephanie Noyce, Head of Financial and Digital Inclusion at Affinity Sutton

In addition to welfare reform and debt, the effects of the ‘poverty premium’ continues to be a prevalent issue in our communities that we aim to tackle.  As the digital age advances and more products and services move online, digital inclusion now plays a fundamental role in tackling the poverty premium. This week Stephanie Noyce, Head of Financial and Digital Inclusion at Affinity Sutton, explains why investing in digital inclusion is central to achieving their social purpose.

 

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Our social purpose means every penny of surplus funds is reinvested into our communities. Housing Associations have been aware for some time that one of the best things we can do to help residents to maximise their incomes is to get them online and confidently using web-based services. There is a broad range of research highlighting the financial benefits of being online, even when connectivity and device costs have been taken into account. We see digital inclusion as both a business and a moral issue – it is so integral to household finances that our digital inclusion programme is delivered by the same team as our financial inclusion programme.

Our Get Connected programme was launched four years ago when just over 50% of our residents were online.  This year no less than 77% of our residents now have access to the internet, this is good news but there is still work to do. Low incomes, low credit ratings, lack of skills, and a lack of understanding about the importance of being online are all challenges to be overcome. From our own research, 38% of those who have never used the internet simply don’t want to and a further 28% don’t know how to, but with the average online shopper saving £560 per year, access to a wider range of financial products and services, and the fact that the majority of jobs can now only be applied for online makes digital inclusion vital. This need will only increase with time – soon it will be the main way individuals and households claim and manage their benefit payments. One of the main reasons we selected Leeds City Credit Union as our national banking partner was their ability to provide access to banking services and affordable loans on-line.

Like many organisations and public services we are also making it easier for our residents to transact with us on-line, saving them time and money. An increasing proportion of our customers, across all income brackets, regard a fully transactional digital service offer as the “norm”. Delivering our service in this way, enhancing our more traditional telephone and face to face service offers, will not only raise customer service for our digitally included residents, but also help us  identify and invest more in supporting our most vulnerable residents not just helping them get on-line but also in terms of employment and financial inclusion.

Affinity Sutton is one of the largest housing associations in England, with over 58,000 homes and 161,000 people who call Affinity Sutton their home.

Find out more about Affinity Sutton’s Get Connected programme.