Column: Help is at hand for Universal Credit roll-out

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From March 21 new benefit claimants will have to claim Universal Credit.

This new form of benefit will replace Income Support, Employment Support Allowance income based, Jobseekers Allowance income based, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits.

Existing claimants will be gradually transferred over to Universal Credit or, if they have a change in circumstances, their existing benefit award will stop and they will then have to claim UC.

For many, Universal Credit will work for them, but for a significant number of people there will be issues such as; claiming problems, late payments, sanctions, rent arrears and lower income.

We are particularly concerned about low income households and vulnerable groups such as those affected by physical and/or mental health issues.

That is why we are working with agencies including Falkirk Council, Housing Associations and CABx to share ideas and, where possible, better help those affected.

One of the main changes that claimants will notice is that Universal Credit is an online-based benefit – the claim must be made and maintained online.

Claimants must, therefore, have access to online services and also be reasonably computer literate.

Evidence from other areas already providing UC confirms there will be a significant number who have no access to online services, insufficient computer skills, or both.

Agencies such as council libraries and the two job centres are working hard to address this.

However, initial signs are that there will be both a shortfall in PC access and, more significantly, staff who are knowledgeable enough on Universal Credit to help a claimant make their claim online when needed.

In order to gauge demand from March 21, DWP was asked for an estimate of potential UC claimants from that date. The request was made by several agencies including the CAB.

We went as far as putting in a Freedom of Information Request and were very surprised that the answer that came back was they simply did not know.

This was disappointing given the importance of this information for planning purposes.

To help better understand the issues faced by online claimants, Grangemouth and Bo’ness CAB are conducting a Digital Access Survey to assess what help is available now, any potential gaps/issues and the issues online claimants may be having.

Anyone who has claimed Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit online is asked to complete a brief survey on how they found the experience.

Evidence from people who have claimed online is essential if we are to accurately identify any issues; it will also help us and our partners respond to them as effectively as resources allow.

This is why we are asking anyone who has done an online claim recently to contact us for a copy of the survey to complete and return.

Copies of the survey are available at any of the three CAB offices in the in Falkirk Council area.

Or, as long as online access is not a problem for you, you can request one by e-mail at bureau@grangemouthcab.casonline.org.uk.