For nearly 60 years, Joan Watts had her milk delivered to her doorstep. As many Britons have done for decades, she ordered by leaving a note with the empty bottles and paid the milkman, in earlier years in cash, then later by direct debit.
But great-grandmother Joan, 90, is now one of thousands of older people whose milk delivery has been abruptly cancelled.
Customers of Milk & More, which is the biggest milk delivery service in the UK and serves around half a million households, have been told they must place all orders online and pay by debit or credit card using a website or smart phone app.
Online only: Customers of Milk & More have been told they must place all orders online and pay by debit or credit card using a website or smart phone app
From April 24, anyone who isn’t able or willing to use the internet will have their deliveries stopped.
The move has triggered an angry reaction from elderly customers who feel they have been abandoned by an ‘ageist’ policy.
‘I was happy to pay by direct debit but they said they won’t allow it any more,’ says Joan, who is widowed.
‘I had to cancel because I can’t use a computer and I worry about banking online because of scams.’
Although around one in five Milk & More customers buy their goods without the internet, the company made several attempts to change this since it was taken over by German dairy giant Muller in 2015.
In 2019, the firm announced it was banning payments by cash or cheque from January 2020. It still allowed customers to pay monthly by direct debit or by card over the phone — but raised prices by 4p per pint for offline customers.
Last September, it ran a trial in Essex of the new system which it said was ‘really successful’, with the ‘vast majority of customers’ moving online. But it wasn’t successful for everyone and Joan, who lives in Essex, was just one of the people left behind.
After next week, all customers nationwide will need to move online or their deliveries will be cancelled.
One Milk & More milkman, who had been serving the same area for 38 years, told his customers he was ‘devastated’ by the decision and extremely concerned for the vulnerable and isolated elderly.
We’ve had milk on our doorstep for 50 years
Offline: Jean and John Salt will get their milk delivered for the last time next week
Jean and John Salt will get their milk delivered for the last time next week, exactly 50 years since they got their first delivery on their wedding day.
The pair, from Bexleyheath, Kent, have a computer but don’t feel comfortable ordering milk online.
With no other delivery services in their area, they must cancel.
Jean, 78, says: ‘We have always had milk delivered ever since we got married.
‘It was lovely as our milkman knew everyone and would look out for people.
‘Now we will have to buy milk from the supermarket. We are one of the lucky ones as we have a car.
‘It’s very unfair on people who don’t have a computer and it seems to be the way the world is going now.’
With more than two million over-75s in England unable to use the internet, campaigners said this is another example of elderly people left without access to essential services.
‘It is essential that those who cannot or do not want to use the internet are not excluded or not disadvantaged as a result,’ says Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.
In the 1970s, around 99 per cent of milk was delivered to the doorstep, but this dwindled to just 3 per cent before the pandemic.
Before Covid-19, around 527,000 customers had milk delivered but this soared to 716,000 during 2020 and has since settled at 672,000, according to market analysts Kantar.
Milk & More has signed up 175,000 new customers in the past two years, driven both by lockdown and demand from eco-conscious shoppers who want reusable glass bottles.
The company confirmed to Money Mail the move to online-only was about ‘cost-effectiveness’, as it is more expensive to process direct debits.
It said it was providing help for customers to get online, but Money Mail found its instructions are only helpful if you already own a computer or a smartphone and understand the internet.
A Milk & More spokesman says the company ‘invested in our business, to transform it from one that has been in decline for more than 40 years to one that is in growth’.
Online custom ‘turned the business around’ and stopping offline orders and payments would ‘protect the jobs of hundreds of milkmen, milkwomen and small suppliers.
‘We understand not everyone will agree with our decision and we appreciate there will be people who can’t or don’t want to make the change.
‘In these cases, we are very willing to help them, where possible, find an alternative supplier,’ he adds.
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