AN 'ONLINE only' system is stopping vulnerable people from registering for sheltered housing.

That is the claim being made by Otley Action for Older People (OAOP) - which has lodged an official complaint against Leeds City Council.

The charity says the digital-focused process now in place is making it impossible for some people to apply for sheltered housing.

OAOP's Outreach and Development Worker Sarah McNab experienced the problems recently while trying to help two elderly residents.

In her letter of complaint she said: "We have always offered support to members with completing the paper Leeds Homes registration forms. Unfortunately the option to help with this now has been taken out of our hands and we have had to revoke offering this service.

"This is because there is a complete ban on paper forms, therefore now the only way to register is online. A large number of our members are housebound and do not have Internet access, they do not have a computer and they don’t have an e-mail address. A large number also don’t have family that can help.

"As a result it has made it impossible for these people to register with Leeds Homes, which is absolutely outrageous."

The council (LCC) can arrange home visits for people who need assistance but first they have to get past a phone line system which Sarah tried and found to be 'the most frustrating...I have ever experienced'.

The complaint has been taken up by ward councillors who are pushing for a paper form option to be available. Councillor Sand Lay (Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon) said: "Whilst online works for many it does not work for a significant minority and very often not for the very people the council should be trying to help."

MP Alex Sobel (Lab, Leeds North West) said: "I completely agree that the decision by Leeds Housing Options to remove paper forms is bad news for those without easy access to online services. This is particularly bad for older, more vulnerable service users.

"I have been in touch with the council and Housing Options to raise this and support OAOP in their complaint. This is yet another example of the move to online-only services adversely affecting older people."

A LCC spokesperson said: "We are truly sorry to hear of the difficulties this person experienced. While we have moved to a new system whereby all registration, bidding and allocation is done online we have made provision for those persons who, for whatever reason, cannot access services online.

"Where we are made aware of such persons needing assistance we arrange for a staff member to visit and register the application for them. Where an applicant has no access to the Internet, we can register an application without an e-mail address.

"Thereafter we can arrange for a paper version of the property advertisement to be sent to the applicant each week and they can bid via telephone.

"It seems in this case we have not communicated our offer to the relevant people which has led to this particular customer receiving a poor service. This is disappointing and I will ask that all our staff are reminded of the process to ensure they handle calls better."

The council has also offered to meet OAOP to further discuss their concerns.