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Older drinkers risk discrimination says charity, after pub refuses to serve man without smartphone

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 13/04/2021 Tony Diver
a man standing in front of a building: David Walters who was barred entry to the Angel Inn in Corbridge - Mark Pinder © Mark Pinder David Walters who was barred entry to the Angel Inn in Corbridge - Mark Pinder

Older drinkers are at risk of discrimination in pubs because they do not have smartphones to order food and drinks on an app, a charity has warned.

Pubs and restaurants reopened on Monday this week after months of lockdown, and many have turned to smartphone apps to allow customers to order without leaving their tables or speaking to staff.

But some venues have made ordering via app mandatory, and have refused to serve customers who do not have a smartphone.

Age UK warned on Tuesday that older customers are more at risk of being discriminated against by pubs that refuse to take orders verbally.

The charity said seven in ten of the UK’s over-70s do not use a smartphone, and warned similar policies risked “reducing the opportunities for some older people to enjoy socialising again”.

David Walters, 78, wrote to The Telegraph after he was refused service at The Angel at Corbridge on Monday.

Staff told him customers were required to use an app to order and submit their contact details to NHS Test and Trace, despite government guidance that allows drinkers to fill in their details on a paper form if they are unable to use the official NHS app.

While the guidelines encourage venues to use contact-free ordering from a table where possible, there is no legal requirement for customers to use an app if they are unable.

a man standing in front of a building: David Walters who was barred entry to the Angel Inn in Corbridge, Northumberland - Mark Pinder © Provided by The Telegraph David Walters who was barred entry to the Angel Inn in Corbridge, Northumberland - Mark Pinder

“I'm coming up to 79, and sadly I'm living alone because my wife died two years ago,” Mr Walters said.

“So I'm all alone now. It's been bad enough being put out to grass, and I've not seen anybody for months because I'm not allowed to because I'm considered to be extremely vulnerable.

“This was going to be the first time I could get out.

“I just thought it was terrible. Older people like me don't have this computer knowledge because we weren’t brought up with computers.

“I thought it was really ageist, because they should know that people of my age can't use this sophisticated equipment.” 

a hand holding a cellphone: Mark Pinder - © Provided by The Telegraph Mark Pinder -

Kevin Laing, who runs the Angel at Corbridge, said he and his staff were “just doing the best we could at the time, and following the advice and guidelines to try and keep guests and staff safe”.

“I'm not discriminating against elderly people or young people, it just seems that if people haven't got a smartphone then it doesn't suit them,” he said.

He added that the app-only policy was a temporary measure in place until the return of indoor dining and drinking on May 17. 

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "As we start to emerge from the pandemic it seems that many pubs and restaurants are requiring customers to pre-order using a smartphone, which automatically rules out about half of those aged 65 to 74 and 70 per cent of the over-75s because they do not use one.

“This risks widening the digital divide and reducing the opportunities for some older people to enjoy socialising once again.

“We fully understand the need for venues to pay attention to infection control but it would be helpful to their bottom lines, as well as to older people, if they ensure that smartphone use is not a precondition for buying a drink or a meal."

Peter Gibson, a Tory MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on social integration, said: “I would hate to think anybody was being excluded by lack of having a smartphone.

“It is a business decision for any business, how they choose to operate, but to exclude a portion of the community just because they haven't got a particular type of device seems very discriminatory to me.”

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