A leading French charity has raised the alarm over what it calls the ‘digital divide’ as the government announces a renewed push to transfer more administrative tasks online.
One of the issues, it says, is the inability of people who do not fit standard scenarios to explain themselves easily – a problem often encountered by foreign residents who might have different documentation and situations to the norm.
Secours Populaire, which has a nationwide network helping people in difficulty, says digitisation should complement face-to-face help, not replace it.
If not, it says, many people, including over-70s, the poor and the disabled, risk giving up on important administrative tasks and missing out on aid they are entitled to.
“We have to bring the human element back,” said national secretary Marie-Françoise Thull. “Especially after the Covid crisis, which has left many people more fragile.”
250 ‘essential services’ online by spring 2022
The government has announced 212 administrative services deemed essential for daily life are now online, with an aim of all 250 on the list being digital by next spring.
Ms Thull said: “Digitisation can make things faster and more practical but we must not forget all those who are in difficulty. First, for older people who have not been trained in IT and feel lost, if everything goes online it’s a big problem.
“It’s the same for those in precarious situations, who often don’t have access to computers and smartphones, who are badly equipped or not at all.
“These people already struggle, and their problems increase because of this and they end up marginalised.”
She said their branches now face a lot of requests for help with such tasks “because these days you can’t get a human in front of you, whether it’s at the Caf [family benefits], Assurance maladie, the prefecture…
And it’s serious because when people can’t cope, it also affects their children, for example, who don’t get access to what they need.”
She added: “People in difficulty often need to explain their circumstances for the slightest procedure, and that’s very complicated to do online.”
Ms Thull said one recent example is the digitisation of travel tickets by Paris’s RATP, which she fears will make life harder for those who live on the streets, as they can more easily access paper tickets than a magnetised card or smartphone app.
‘Slow and not user-friendly’ - reader feedback on new ANTS site
One service which went entirely online in recent years is the exchange of foreign driving licences for French licences, renewals of licences, and applications for cartes grises car registration documents – all now done via the centralised ANTS ‘secure documents’ agency.
The service, which has been hit by large backlogs and is said by many users to be hard to contact, recently launched a new version of its website ants.gouv.fr.
A spokeswoman said it is better adapted to tablets and smartphones, with a control panel that allows all procedures to be organised from the same space.
Another advantage is that users can now register vehicles to a club or firm, separate from their personal account.
However, in the first week of its relaunch, several Connexion readers reported the site to be slow and not user-friendly, with one going so far as to say that “if purgatory had a website, ANTS would be it”.
Another complained that “it’s so secure that no one can get in” while Lester Dedman said his ongoing licence swap application had now disappeared from his personal space.
This was later resolved after we flagged up the issue to ANTS. Not everyone is unhappy with the changes.
One reader said it took only 10 minutes to register his car sale and get a code for the new owner, insisting the site is “really easy to use”.
Another said: “No issues for us.” The spokeswoman acknowledged that some users had faced disruptions in the first week.
She said they were “for the most part resolved and the portal should now perform better than it did before”.