Portsmouth pensioners Robert and Jan Absolom were stunned when a Specsavers zero finance offer for a £1,300 hearing aid was turned down because they didn’t have a mobile phone.
The couple’s dialogue of the deaf emerged when Robert went along for a sight test appointment at their London Road branch.
As it happened he didn’t need new glasses, but he’d seen on TV that Specsavers also sold hearing aids and as the store was an approved NHS audiology centre he agreed to a further appointment for a hearing test.
After the test he arranged to buy a hearing aid, and he was told about an interest- free credit offer to help spread the cost.
Jan explained: ‘To be honest we could have paid for it, but we had a new boiler and kitchen this year so we thought the £100- a-month deal would preserve our savings, but we really didn’t need to go down that route.
‘Everything appeared to be going well until we were given the details and they asked for a mobile phone number.
‘He’s never had a mobile and at 80 years old, is unlikely to want to get one now.
‘Apparently the finance company used by Specsavers required three points of contact. They had our address, landline, and email but apparently it wasn’t enough.
‘I was frustrated and furious about it.
‘We own our own house, we have no debts, no credit cards, not even an overdraft, but we’d been refused credit because we don’t have a mobile.
‘I tried to contact Specsavers head office and found out they were registered in Guernsey and the branches were franchises, so there was nowhere to go to register a complaint.’
Jan told us that although some of their friends were technology competent, many of them weren’t on the internet or felt the need for a cell phone.
We agreed Jan’s experience wasn’t at all unusual. Streetwise is acutely aware the elderly are scandalously missing out when it comes to retailers’ money-off and bargain offers because they are less likely to be hooked up to technology.
All the best deals are either online or conveyed by SMS text messages and calls, leaving a significant number of consumers detached from taking advantage of competitive pricing.
It was elderly people who shunned mobile phones or weren’t on the internet that were being hung out to dry.
A straw poll of potential silver surfers at our weekly surgery in the Gosport Discovery Centre backed up Jan’s claim.
We asked a random, but admittedly small sample of retirement aged people if they had a mobile phone or were on the internet, and more than a fifth of those we spoke to were not interested or openly hostile to communications technology.
Those who were internet savvy tended to use the technology to keep in touch with family and friends. Shopping around for the best deals wasn’t on their radar. Others told us they hated mobiles and believed they were overtly intrusive and unnecessary.
To further complicate financial transactions, banks were about to introduce new security arrangements for online shoppers, involving passwords being sent to mobiles to counter identity fraud.
We approached Specsavers about the couple’s finance exclusion experience and asked them to investigate.
We pointed out their credit policy requiring a mobile phone number appeared short-sighted since hearing aids tended to be a product segment largely bought by the older generation.
Small wonder Jan had got uptight, as no one from the store appeared to be prepared to listen to her grievance. Within a few days Jan’s complaint and our submission on her behalf brought about a major policy change by the national high street opticians.
Specsavers told us they’d seen the light and had agreed to do an about- turn on the mobile phone stipulation with their credit provider.
A spokesperson explained: ‘Specsavers has recently started offering credit agreements for audiology customers. This service is provided by a finance company, which has its own credit checking procedures.
‘A mobile phone number is one of the methods they use to verify a customer’s identity and under their terms and conditions, it is compulsory for someone to provide a mobile number to enter into an agreement with them.
‘However, we understand that some of our customers may not have a mobile phone so we have asked the company to remove the compulsory requirement for a mobile phone as a matter of urgency.
‘We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused the customer and we are working to get this changed as soon as possible.’
Jan was impressed that her complaint had led to Specsavers finally recognising there was a problem with firms insisting it was compulsory to have a mobile in order to do business with them.
‘It’s not an issue for us now as in the meantime we’ve gone elsewhere,’ she said.
‘In fact I told the Specsavers girl on the phone that they’d actually lost two customers because I was about to be the next one down there as I’m also the age I don’t hear as well as I used to.
‘It’s a good thing we don’t need credit because at our age we’re past all that, but well done to Streetwise for listening to our story and getting Specsavers to see sense.’