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French public services: ‘We cannot impose smartphone use on everyone’

Services should maintain a physical presence as many people have difficulties using digital resources, says the Defender of Rights

France’s Defender of Rights has urged public services to maintain a physical presence rather than moving completely online Pic: BaanTaksinStudio / Shutterstock

Public services in France cannot expect everyone to use smartphones with internet access at all times, the Defender of Rights has said. 

France’s Defender of Rights (Défenseure des droits) is the head of an independent authority of the government, charged with defending the best interests of the population as well as fighting against conscious and inadvertant discrimination. 

The current Défenseure des droits is Claire Hédon, who told France Inter yesterday (July 5) that: “We must put the human back into the machine.” 

The Defender of Rights’ annual report makes reference to “dysfunctions” and “difficulties” linked to the digitalisation of services, and Ms Hédon explained: “What worries me about the current situation is that these threats to rights provoke societal fractures.

“If we want to create social cohesion again, it will be by respecting rights. 

“It is not possible to impose smartphones with access to the internet on everyone,” she added, pointing out that one in five people in France do not have a computer or tablet.

“What we’re currently asking users to do is to adapt to public services when it should be the reverse: public services must adapt to their users.” 

In 2021, Ms Hédon and her department were sent a record number of complaints, with 115,000 people getting in contact. 

Ms Hédon called for public services to “maintain physical reception services,” considering that many people in France struggle with digital procedures. 

They include: “elderly people, disabled people, vulnerable people, foreign people, prison inmates and younger people, as we always believe that young people are very good on their smartphones, but this is not at all the case with housing allocations.

“We need to see people when there are difficulties.”

Ms Hédon added that she judges the number of France Service offices to be insufficient, “because in these spaces, you do not have representatives from [all] the different public services, and even they can have trouble managing people’s files.” 

Read more: What are France Services points and how can they help you?

There are around 2,000 France Service centres – formerly called Maisons de Services au Public – dotted around the country, offering assistance with administrative procedures by trained staff. 

The government claims that everyone in the country is within 30 minutes of a France Service office. 

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