Citizens Online publish Digital Inclusion report on Kent Social Housing

Digital inclusion charity Citizens Online launches its report into digital inclusion issues in Kent.

137,000 people aged 16 or over in Kent (nearly 10% of the population) have never used the Internet, or last used it over three months ago. Citizens Online was appointed by a consortium of social housing providers in Kent to research digital inclusion challenges and report recommendation to address them. The three members of the consortium – Town & Country Housing Group, Orbit, and Golding Homes – commissioned the research in order to improve their tenants’ basic digital skills, and their confidence to access online opportunities and services. The research focused on three boroughs: Maidstone, Thanet, and Tunbridge Wells.

During the research, Citizens Online engaged with over 50 organisations involved with digital inclusion work in the three focus areas. Their ‘Switch’ approach advocates building a local, cross-sector digital inclusion partnership to tackle digital exclusion in a resilient way by building an army of ‘embedded’ Digital Champions, as no single organisation can reach all of those excluded.

This partnership could bring together local authorities, JobCentrePlus centres, libraries and voluntary sector organisations as well as more housing associations, to work jointly and strategically on a programme for greater digital inclusion. It is early days, but already 15 volunteer Digital Champions have been recruited – and between them have provided help with digital skills to over 100 people.

This work is part of the national ‘One Digital’ partnership, a collaborative initiative of five organisations, funded by the Big Lottery Fund to help people benefit from being online. Since the January 2016 launch the One Digital programme has successfully helped more than 11,000 people across the UK to get online, and by 2020 aims to improve the digital skills of another 40,000 people.

Citizens Online’s analysis identified that an estimated 4,417 benefit claimants in Maidstone, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells have low or no digital capability – and recommended the creation of a specific action plan engage with residents who are likely to find the transition from Housing Benefit claims to ‘digital by default’ Universal Credit claims a challenge. The report’s recommendations also include training more “Digital Champions” to help people with digital skills. These Digital Champions could be supporting people as volunteers in a community setting, or as part of an employed role.

John Fisher, Chief Executive of Citizens Online, said: “We have been impressed with the Kent consortium’s willingness to work together on a joined-up solution to this difficult issue of supporting digital skills. We want to change the way local service providers and funders perceive the issue of digital inclusion – from being a ‘bolt-on activity’ to a way of working that is part of business as usual.”

Stuart Ilsley, Head of Service Transformation at Town & Country Housing Group said: “As part of this project we have the aspiration that all our customers can use technology and that nobody is left behind.  The comprehensive information collated by Citizens Online, is an important enabler for shaping a strategy to close the digital skills gap at a local level.”

Caroline McBride Head of Community Development at Golding Homes said: “We live in a digital world and by not having access to the internet many are missing out on the benefits and opportunities that are available. We are pleased to have been part of this consortium which going forward will enable us to support our residents more effectively in being digitally included.”

Notes for Editors:

1.     Spokespeople

John Fisher (Citizens Online)
Rachel Branson, Head of PR, Town & Country Housing Group 01892 501446
Andrew Richmond, Communications Manager, Orbit 07768 031 708
Diane Beeching, PR & Communications Manager 0300 777 2600

2.     Kent Housing Associations

About Town & Country Housing Group

Town & Country Housing provide more than 9,500 affordable homes in 15 local authority areas in Kent and Sussex. In addition to general needs homes, we offer a wide range of housing, including key worker, shared ownership and specialist accommodation including a women’s refuge, housing for people with learning and physical disabilities, and a hostel for ex-offenders. Over the years we have invested heavily in our homes, and continue to do so as part of our Growth Strategy.

About Orbit

As one of the UK’s largest housing associations, more than 42,000 properties, Orbit has over 50 years’ experience of providing quality, affordable homes and a range of advice and support services to over 100,000 people across the midlands, east and south east, including areas of London.

Our ethical approach to business means that we reinvest our profits into our vision of building thriving communities, ensuring all generations can live in a home they can afford. This profit for a purpose culture has enabled us to build around 2,000 new homes a year, from market sale and shared ownership to affordable rent and independent living with care options for people aged 55-plus.

Building homes is just the start of our offer to customers. We also work closely with partners to provide a network of support services to give people choice and opportunities through employment and training, health and wellbeing, digital inclusion and financial inclusion.

Employing 1,200 staff, we have a wealth of in-house resources, skills, and experience. We harness this to provide sector-leading homes and services, but also to benefit other businesses.

About Golding Homes

Golding Homes is an award winning housing association which owns and manages over 7,300 homes in Kent. Established in 2004, it has completed over 1,200 new properties, providing homes for over 10,000 people in eight local authority areas, invested over £150m in large scale regeneration projects and supported its residents through a £3m community investment programme.  Golding Vision is the community development arm of Golding Homes and one of its key priorities is to promote the health and wellbeing of its residents.  It works in partnership with other organisations and invests over £500,000 each year on supporting communities.

3.     About the One Digital Consortium: | @OneDigitalProg

One Digital is a collaboration of five distinct organisations (Age UK, Citizens Online, Clarion Futures (Clarion Housing Group’s charitable foundation), Digital Unite and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) working together toward a shared aim of helping people of all ages to access the benefits of digital technology.

Since the launch of the first phase in January 2016, the programme has successfully helped more than 11,000 people across the UK to get online, with many people saying the confidence and skills they gained had been ‘life changing’, from support for job hunting to social engagement.  Additionally, over 1,000 Digital Champions have been recruited and trained, providing personal support to those seeking to get online, which has in turn improved their own confidence and digital expertise through helping others.

The Big Lottery Fund has since awarded One Digital further funding over three years to scale up proven approaches, transform digital skills delivery and ensure sustainability.  One Digital now aims to reach 40,000 people through 4,000 Digital Champions, improving the digital skills of those most in need. Learning outcomes from the project’s’ Community of Practice will be made available to support good practice in digital inclusion.

The One Digital Partners

Age UK:

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances.

One Digital Phase 2 will see multiple partners across regions transforming digital skills delivery for older people in areas with high digital exclusion. Delivered by local Age UK’s, older people will be supported to learn how digital skills can benefit them, for example by enabling them to keep in contact with loved ones, make savings by shopping online and pursue hobbies.

Citizens Online: | @citizensonline1

Citizens Online is a UK charity committed to researching, addressing and promoting the issues of digital inclusion. In collaboration with a wide range of partners, Citizens Online has been specialising in digital inclusion, skills and service transformation since 2000.

Clarion Futures:

Clarion Futures is part of Clarion Housing Group and is a registered charitable foundation. We will invest £150 million over ten years to deliver one of the largest social investment programmes in the country. Our mission is to provide social housing residents with the support, skills and opportunities to transform their lives and communities for the better.

Digital Unite: |

Digital Unite is one of the UK’s leading providers of digital skills learning and the only organisation that focuses exclusively on vocational training and support for Digital Champions.

For One Digital, Digital Unite will continue to facilitate the Digital Champion infrastructure for each partner project using their existing online train-the-trainer platform, the Digital Champions Network. With their evidence base and a learner-led co-design process, they will be using new technologies and teaching approaches to radically extend the Network’s support. Digital Unite is also supporting  individuals and organisations from a wide variety of sectors with establishing their own local Digital Champion movements underpinned by the Network’s products and services.


The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the membership organisation for Scotland’s charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. A dedicated team is working across public, private and third sectors in Scotland to increase digital participation.

Their One Digital project will transform the Scottish third sector to become more digitally confident and capable. By creating a meaningful intervention at leadership, organisation and individual levels they will propel the third sector to the centre of the digital revolution.

5.     About the Big Lottery Fund

The Big Lottery Fund is the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It puts people in the lead to improve their lives and communities, often through small, local projects.

It is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by National Lottery players for good causes. In 2016/17 it awarded £712.7 million and supported more than 13,814 projects across the UK for health, education, environment and charitable purposes.

Since June 2004 it has awarded £8.5 billion to projects that change the lives of millions of people.


Twitter: @biglotteryfund #NationalLottery


6.     About Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is about ensuring the benefits of the internet and digital technologies are available to everyone. Excluded people often lack skills, confidence and motivation, along with limited or no access to equipment or an internet connection. The two main indicators of potential digital exclusion are being older and/or having low educational attainment.

Estimates for the proportion and number of people who are digitally excluded in the UK vary. In 2018, ONS data on Internet Users estimated that 10% of UK Adults had either never used the internet or last used it over 3 months ago. That’s 5.3 million people. However, digital inclusion isn’t only about whether people can access the internet, it’s also about their ability to use it. 21% (11.3m) of UK Adults are classified as not having all five Basic Digital Skills, according to research by Ipsos Mori for the 2018 Lloyds Consumer Digital Index.

Having basic digital skills means being able to participate safely and effectively online; the five basic digital skills are: managing information; communicating; transacting; creating; problem solving. The Basic Digital Skills model used in the above research is evolving into a new Essential Digital Skills Framework, treating the above facets as Foundational skills.