FinCap and Muaūpoko Tribal Authority (MTA) strongly support Citizens Advice Bureau New Zealand calling for inclusion in the digital age as a special debate on inclusion is due to commence in Parliament at 3pm today.
FinCap and Muaūpoko Tribal Authority work in partnership to increase whānau prosperity in Horowhenua and Taitoko, Levin. Those doing the mahi on the ground in Taitoko – as well as financial mentors across Aotearoa – are seeing the exclusionary impacts and associated harm that digital-first approaches have on whānau.
Janeka Rutherford-Busck, policy advisor at FinCap, says, “Access to public services is crucial and should not only be a valid option for those that have access to digital tools and devices.
This issue of access also extends beyond public services to essential private services, such as banking and mobile phone support.”
CEO of MTA, Di Rump adds, “Everyone in Aotearoa should have access to essential services without incurring unfair costs or putting in a ridiculous amount of time.
We have heard numerous stories of digital exclusion from whānau and kaumatua, as well as from kaimahi and financial mentors who work alongside people navigating a pathway forward from challenging circumstances.
These stories highlight just how crucial it is that services offer a range of ways to engage to ensure that no whānau is excluded from essential services due to being digitally excluded.
We need to ensure that uniform digital-first policies do not now become the norm, this is so that they do not undermine future efforts to include all especially considering the establishment of a dedicated ministry for Tāngata Whaikaha.”
Many whānau, frontline workers and financial mentors currently provide support for filling out forms and accessing online tools so that essential tasks – such as renewing passports, creating RealMe logins and accessing banking services – can be completed.
A detailed list of further examples of exclusion gathered from financial mentors can be found at the bottom of this release.
Ms Rutherford-Busck says FinCap is also calling for changes to the digital-first approach of many organisations, alongside sustainable funding for support in communities, as a backstop to provide assistance when nothing is making sense to a whānau.
“Frustrating examples shared by financial mentors around Aotearoa emphasise the incredibly important role that they play in our communities.
The support that financial mentors provide is helping fill the digital gap. However, this work should be additional for ensuring access to essential services, rather than being the only option for many.
Financial mentors’ crucial mahi needs to be recognised through sustainable funding for the sector, to ensure that they can continue their amazing support for whānau in Aotearoa.”
Examples from financial mentors:
- Many clients only have their phone to use for completing our budget worksheets which is really challenging for them. They don’t have a laptop and using the library is often not possible in remote areas or if they don’t have transport.
- Creating a RealMe log in is also very difficult for clients and is needed for all No Asset Procedure (NAP) and Debt Repayment Order (DRO) applications.
- Many of our clients disengage after their initial contact with us as it’s just too hard for them to provide the information we need. We do as much as we can over the phone with clients.
- The use of automatic emails and text messages from creditors mean that clients are getting bombarded on a daily basis and find that stressful and hard to concentrate while they’re at work.
The following is a list of detailed examples of lived experiences of exclusion:
A relatively recent arrival in the town has a computer which she does not know how to use other than to play games on (which is a great start as it means she can at least operate one). My assistance was sought to resolve a Dog Registration fee that went unpaid and subsequently became a Court Fine, thereby escalating the annual fee from $68 to a $300 penalty. The client had no idea where to turn for help and approached the local Community Services. The resolution process was to obtain the relevant client privacy waiver and then (in this case successfully) negotiate with the relevant local body to have the fine cancelled and the overdue sum paid without penalty.
A senior was advised by a doctor in our town that her driving licence was to be endorsed “for only around our small town.” This was effectively a life sentence for this person. She explained why to the doctor, who amended his recommendation to “must undertake a driving competency test.” But how to arrange this? Again, such services are not available in our town. The client had tried unsuccessfully to complete an online form on the AA’s website to arrange the required test, so I was asked to help. Together, we attempted to arrange this again via the website without success. The site kept rejecting the application citing “the applicant names do not match”- which we could see was nonsense as they certainly did in the two spots required to have this information entered. Next step, we ring them (the AA). Together, we waited for 40 minutes on hold listening to mindless music and advertising comments which included telling us to visit their website. Eventually we were connected to a person only to be advised that you can’t arrange such an appointment via the website or telephone, you must go in person to either the AA Centre or LTNZ site, both in our region’s major centre. The client did this on her own and the result was successful.
A senior wanted to apply for a passport renewal. As this must now be done online, we had no choice but to first, create a RealMe ID which we did together in my office. I had never completed this process before either and it very difficult as it involves having a computer or phone and an environment where you can take pictures and video acceptable to the website as you create the ID. You then wait for a week for it to be “verified.” Then you must use the internet again to apply for the passport renewal. The person in question rang me in frustration a week after we had successfully submitted the RealMe application, to ask “why had it not happened” (she was now out of town with family) and via a phone call, I had to guide her through how to check her emails on her phone and she then found the required email confirmation. As she was in a major city, family helped her through the passport application process – again which must be done online. She mentioned that she had previously wasted an entire day driving around in a major city trying to find an open Internal Affairs office.
We have no direct services in this small town so the only way to sort out these issues is via phone or internet (email). Today, the phone has become a most unfriendly option as the first encounter is invariably an automated voice system which includes a long verbal description of which key to push to access whatever service is relevant. Listening and keeping the phone screen active so as to be able to select the relevant key is difficult for many. Voice answer systems are similarly challenging as one endeavours to figure out what to say and then to try and interpret the response. If you are lucky, the service may offer a “call back” option (which should be a minimum requirement for all services in my view).
A client notes that to call Inland Revenue (IRD) and Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) it can be difficult locate the correct contact numbers. They said the time tends to vary regarding how long it takes to get a hold of someone to speak to. He said it’s better with IRD, but on a recent call to WINZ he waited for an hour and 30 minutes. He does understand however that it’s particularly challenging at the moment with the context of COVID-19 resurging and many staff being off sick. He hopes that this will change for the better soon, so that people like him can participate in their communities with more ease.