NS&I accused of ‘excluding’ older customers

·2 min read
Age discrimination banking
Age discrimination banking

Britain’s biggest savings institution National Savings & Investments has been accused of blocking older customers from its best accounts as it pushes customers online.

Caroline Abrahams, of charity Age UK, said NS&I “must not exclude” those older people who cannot use technology. “It is essential that NS&I and other providers ensure that all their services and products are available to everyone regardless of their digital skills,” she added.

The Government’s savings arm said it hoped 85pc of its transactions would be online by next year. But a substantial portion of the older population – 40pc of over 75s – do not use the internet, according to Age UK.

Currently, only three of NS&I’s seven accounts can be opened and managed by post, meaning older and less digitally savvy savers will find their options limited. Research by fund shop AJ Bell found that the average rate on the online-only accounts is 0.91pc, while those managed by post is 0.64pc.

When comparing variable-rate easy-access non-Isa accounts, the online-only Direct Saver offers interest that is 50 times higher than the post-only Investment Account.

NS&I launched its first online-only bond in 2017, despite the majority of over 65s who bought its pensioner bonds in 2015 having done so over the phone or by post.

Campaigners have previously warned that many pensioners cannot always afford the computers or smartphones necessary to move to online banking.

Natalie Ceeney, of the Access to Cash Review, a campaign, said as more services go online-only, it could “create a two-tier system that will leave some of the poorest and oldest in our society behind”.

Research by Age UK revealed about four million over 65s did not use the internet at all before the pandemic. A string of bank closures brought on by the pandemic had forced many elderly savers online despite issues with dexterity or sight loss.

An NS&I spokesman said: “Our customers are incredibly important to us, and while improving our online experience will benefit people of all ages, we also understand that some will need to save with us in other ways.

“That’s why we are committed to ensuring that customers who do not have access to the internet continue to have accessible ways to manage their accounts, including by post or over the phone.”

AJ Bell found £4.4bn of savers’ money went into NS&I in 2021-22. The majority was placed in Premium Bonds, with £10.3bn of net inflows. Guaranteed Bonds and Income Bonds, meanwhile, each saw outflows of £3.9bn.

Laura Suter, of the broker, said the cost of living crisis had led to people “raiding their savings” and making significant withdrawals.

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