EU Roundtable on financial services: AGE raises concerns about challenges faced by older consumers in time of COVID-19
On 28 May AGE was invited to participate in the virtual roundtable organised by European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis to kick-start a dialogue on practical relief measures taken by the financial sector to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on consumers and businesses.
Consumers were asked to coordinate among themselves and decide on the issues they would wish to share during the meeting. Together the consumers’ representatives recommended that this dialogue should be structured around consumers' needs rather than types of industry actors to ensure that there will be no important consumers issues left aside. The list of issues in the joint consumers’ pre-meeting statement were then raised by various consumers organisations during the roundtable.
COVID-19 raises issue of accessibility of digital payment in older age
Anne-Sophie Parent, AGE Secretary General, explained that the lockdown has been quite challenging for many older persons who could no longer use cash to pay for their groceries nor visit a local bank branch to access cash or get bank staff’s support to pay their bills. In some countries more than 40% of older persons do not use digital means of payments nor online banking due to their lack of accessibility. Some older persons reported as not being able to access essential goods such as food and medicines because they could no longer pay with cash nor ask a neighbour to shop for them and reimburse them with cash afterwards. While welcoming the initiative taken to raise the threshold, contactless cards are not helpful since the threshold is too low to enable them to pay for their weekly groceries at once. Yet higher thresholds increase the risk in case of fraud. AGE called for a solution to be urgently developed because older persons are identified as being at higher risk of developing severe forms of COVID-19 and persons aged 65+ are asked by public authorities to remain very careful and to limit their visits outside to essential needs. AGE asked the payment industry to consult seniors’ and persons with disabilities’ organisations to develop adequate solutions to enable easy payment for those who face challenges since COVID-19 measures on retail payments have been introduced.
Older passenger rights and COVID-19
Ms. Parent also raised issues related to travel insurance. When the COVID-19 crisis started, many older persons were forced to cancel their trip and asked their travel insurance company to be refunded. Insurers answered that their travel insurance is limited to cancelation due to illness of the passenger who needs to send a doctor’s certificate stating that the person was unable to travel on the planned date. At the same time most airliners refused to reimburse non-refundable tickets and offered instead vouchers to be used within a few months. This remains an issue for specific vulnerable groups such as older persons who may not be able to use the vouchers they received in compensation within the set deadline. Commissioner for Justice and Consumers rights Didier Reynders recalled that there is EU regulation that makes it compulsory for airliners to refund cancelled flights. But in practice older persons struggle to get their tickets refunded. Insurance Europe reacted to this point and stressed that further discussion is needed on who should cover pandemics in the future.
The participating the consumers' representative organisations collected their recommendations in a joint statement, which you can read here.