Pensioner claims she and others – the non-IT users – are losing out financially

by Rose Barrett
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Rose Barrett

Verona Donohue is 78 years of age – and is utterly perplexed and frustrated with the number of services that are only accessible by online methods. This, she claims, totally excludes people like herself, who do not have IT devices nor are they internet ‘savvy’.

A divorced mother of three adult children, Verona retired at 73 from Arnott’s in Dublin, and previously, worked at Ghost in Brown Thomas  and The Design Centre, Powerscourt Town House, where she worked for Helen McAlinden.

“I only separated 20 years ago,” she said. “When I was married, my former husband handled all the household bills so only after separation, did I start figuring it out. At first, I rented accommodation in a private house and the landlady handled all the utility bills and services.

“In 2019, I moved into my former family home in Dundrum. I inherited my late sister’s estate, and had to manage the will, and start paying my bills by direct debit.

“There are virtually no offices now or human contact points that you can ring with enquiries on to apply for discounts, additional services, etc,” said  Verona. “Dealing with my sister’s death, moving, changing my address on all my own things and sorting her estate was a nightmare but I still handled everything myself.  I’m in pretty good health at 78 and sharp as a new pin!

“I’ve been through tough times in life but now I’m having to deal with all this online stuff. All I want is to pay my bills online and let me get on with my life!

“I rang my insurance company, the RSA, to insure my car and was told there was a €50 discount online to renew. I said I can’t do that – ‘but I’m going to pay you by direct debit, isn’t that the same, you get your payment immediately?’

“I’m a pensioner living on a fixed income so if there’s a discount going, I need it and want to avail of it!”

Recently, Verona described how she spotted a man getting a discount at her local supermarket. When I was unpacking my bag at the till, I noticed the man before asked about a discount.

“The staff member at the till asked me had I a Smart Phone, and I said no, I had a grand little phone, and it serves me well. ‘Oh, you have to have a Smart phone and be on the App or you can’t get the discounts.’ 

“That’s ageism!” I said. “The following day I rang Lidl’s head office and they confirmed I had to be on the App and that’s it, tough.”

Verona continued: “I feel totally discriminated against! I pay my utility bills by direct debit, Energia are very patient and help me pay. A chap called to the door, offering 33.3 per cent from Airtricity if I signed with them. I said I would consider if I got a better deal. The following week I got three letters and a pamphlet from Airtricity.

“I asked could I have bills posted to my current address, I still like to have the bill and check my usage but they said they had a green policy, saving on paper and couldn’t offer a hard bill copy – yet they already sent me three letters and a pamphlet!

“Environmentally aware? Hypocritical, and I haven’t signed over. I spoke again with Energia and they agreed to send out my bills so I’m not moving the provider.

“I’m with Vodafone for my mobile service, and they were promoting an online service, you get €5 extra with your top up but only online! ESB and other electric providers are advertising they have an App and you can go online and see when is the best times to run your electrical appliances for the lowest charge. I’m a pensioner and I could do with these discounts – but I am excluded from both as I can’t go online!”

She noted a Garda App was recently advertised in print  but once again, it’s online accessible only.

At 78, Verona is not taking her exclusion lightly and has called on all her local councillors including Cllr Anna Grainer who tried to highlight the matter on local radio. Verona further contacted all her TDs and Deputy Josepha Madigan who wrote to Mary Butler, Minster for Older People and Mental Health on the issue.

A reply from Minister Butler entailed information about courses introduced for people over 45 to learn how to use the internet. “I’m 78 and I have no interest in the internet! She also recommended a consumer helpline and suggested they might be able to help with my concerns!

“I rang the competition and consumer protection commission located at Bloom House in Dublin. I spoke with a receptionist and left my details and I’ve heard nothing since before Christmas!”

Stressing she handles all her own business and wants to continue doing that. “I’ve been advised to do a course, or to get a close friend or family member to do my banking. My banking is private. I’m fed up listening to warnings about online scams by the banks. I should be able to ring someone in a bank, service or a company to discuss my bill but I can’t because I don’t have a laptop, a Smart phone or online Apps!”

“I am bright and well-read but I am not technical. I contacted the Gazette because people like me are excluded and railroaded by the technical express train, I just wanted to make businesses aware of this! Do we matter, or do we count at all!” concluded Verona.

NB Alone, Age Action, the HSE, Citizens Advice and Older People will offer advice and help on how to access the internet, computer classes in local secondary schools or colleges but Verona’s point is this, at 78 she shouldn’t have to learn a new skill or acquire expensive devises to pay her bills as she always has.

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