As a member of our community, you may somewhat be aware of the plan to scrap the traditional copper wired landline, that will affect all landline users over the next two years. For those less involved in the digital world, the news of the ‘digital switchover’ may not have reached you. Not everyone is aware of what seem to be limited public communications on the change, meaning that we believe many customers have been left in the dark about how they will be affected, including millions of vulnerable customers for whom their landline is also a lifeline.

So, what is the digital switchover?

According to landline service providers, the copper wired telephone network or the ‘public switched telephone network’ (PSTN) is no longer fit for purpose, so a broadband powered alternative is necessary to maintain and, according to providers, improve landline services.

Telecare devices such as healthcare pendants, which are installed in so many homes across the country, are often powered through the copper network, and so when services are switched to digital, these devices may also no longer work. Devices like these provide essential assistance to those with disabilities, health conditions or those requiring care at home, and act as a lifeline for so many.

Service providers describe the move to digital voice as simple and only requiring customers to plug their phone in to a new location – which is into a broadband router. This plays down the many complications experienced by customers, including the change of their healthcare pendants, or that not everyone wants or can afford a broadband connection, as well as the lack of a communications to make everyone aware of what they must do to keep their landline service.

So what now?

The gradual move to digital started in 2021 but was paused in Spring 2022 due to many vulnerable customers being left without landline phones and essential health pendants. The switch resumed this year, with the largest provider, BT, promising not to switch any vulnerable customers over to Digital Voice for one year, on the understanding that issues with healthcare pendants, landline-only services, and awareness of what vulnerable customers were required to do, would be resolved in this time.

Spring 2024 is just around the corner, but a clear, widespread communications campaign seems nowhere to be seen. We have also heard from our community that not only were vulnerable customers switched over to digital voice without notice during the ‘pause’ for vulnerable customers, but some customers have had no option but to buy expensive new devices to keep their landline; providers are still not offering a landline-only option; there are questions around how Digital Voice may be impacted in areas with poor connectivity, and older or partially sighted customers are struggling to use their digital voice device due to inaccessibility of the device or the location it needs to be plugged in.

Other issues that concern us, and are not currently clear will be resolved, include:

  • When there is a power outage, digital devices will not work. For those who have no mobile signal, or do not own a mobile device, ‘backup’ devices will reach the right customers.
  • How healthcare pendants will continue to work, especially for those that landline providers are not aware of, and how they are identifying all customers with these devices.
  • How landline providers are identifying all vulnerable customers, to ensure extra protections are put in place.
  • How communications plans address the scams that are taking place, using the switchover to get money from vulnerable customers.
  • The availability and process of arranging home visits for vulnerable customers who need help installing a device.
  • What communications are being provided to customers being switched, and whether these communications specify what help will be provided to vulnerable customers, who is classified as a ‘vulnerable customer’ and how to register yourself as a vulnerable customer with your provider.

In the meantime

We are working with our partners at Silver Voices and Disability Rights UK to understand concerns, raise awareness of the changes, provide help to vulnerable customers, and assess any changes that need to be made, to best protect vulnerable customers and ensure that no vulnerable person is left without essential connection in the coming months. We encourage you to get in touch with the DPA if you or a relative have concerns or have experienced issues while being switched over to Digital Voice.

You can join our webinar at 1pm on the 12th January with Director of Silver Voices, Dennis Reed, and Chief Executive Officer of Disability Rights UK, Kamran Mallick, to hear more about the potential impact of the switchover on vulnerable customers, and what we are calling on service providers to do to protect them.

 

Written by Adele Kersey, External Affairs Coordinator