Norway’s social welfare agency NAV, which administers everything from unemployment benefits to pensions, has sent a letter to around 600,000 retirees informing them that they no longer will receive their pension notices through the postal system. From now on, both they and others collecting disability benefits will receive their notices only electronically, and many are unhappy.
“A large group of people will now be put in a situation where they won’t get information from NAV,” complained 79-year-old Sven Ekholl to newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday. “Many retirees and people on disability don’t have computers, or lack knowledge about how to use them and the Internet.”
Those plucked out among the 600,000 have already had some sort of digital encounter with the state, and NAV is seizing on that to justify only online payment notices. Norway has long been at the forefront of mobile telephone and Internet use, but the so-called “digital divide” still exists, especially among those who haven’t grown up in the digital age.
Ekholl thinks information from state authorities should still come in the post. “NAV is taking liberties here,” Ekholl said. “Even though more and more of us are trying to learn and go online, they can’t force us into it in this way.” Some may have trouble reading online screens, or may simply fear they’ll press a wrong button that can result in expensive consequences.
Ekholl noted that he’s been lucky to have grandchildren helping him learn to use a new electronic tablet that he’d acquired. He also agrees there are “many positive sides” to the digital world, but he would prefer to decide for himself if he wants to enter it, and then at his own pace.
‘Put on the sidelines’
Christin Engelstad, communications chief at for the senior citizens’ lobbying group Seniorsaken, is also upset about NAV’s sudden move. “This is one more thing in the digital revolution that our elders are being subjected to,” Engelstad told Dagsavisen. They’re already being “put on the sidelines,” she said, or charged new and high service fees by banks, utilities, businesses and other state institutions if they’re not conducting transactions online. Norway’s tax authority, Skatteetaten, is also calling on taxpayers to file their tax returns on line, and forcing all small business owners to do so.
“The state should at the very least try to do this through a sympathetic process,” Engelstad said. “The majority of elderly people will never go online. We think the state and especially the banks need to show more social responsibility here. We understand that they want the vast majority to conduct business over the net, to save costs, but they must also take care of those who can’t master it.”
‘Not complicated or dramatic’
Eyvind Frilseth of the retirees group Pensjonistforbundet also said he can understand that NAV, which sends out around 20 million payments a year, wants to save money on printing and postage. “For many retirees, it’s no problem for them to check their payments online,” Frilseth said. “But even though some have had contact with the state online, that doesn’t mean they have a command over online banking or other Internet-based functions. Many have had help from a spouse, children, grandchildren or friends, but they should still be allowed to receive pament notices on paper.” He hopes NAV will show “more flexibility.”
Geir Axelsen, finance director at NAV, said the agency was steadily trying to convert to digital services, not least because of Parliamentary directives. NAV can save considerable sums of taxpayers’ money by cutting back on postage costs.
“For most of our clients, this will not be complicated or dramatic,” he told Dagsavisen. He noted that around 522,000 retirees and people on disability will continue to receive payment notices in the post, at least for now.