Universal Credit pilots find claimants struggling

Half of Universal Credit claimants in some areas could struggle to use the government’s online system because they lack IT skills and have limited internet access, local government pilots have found.

The findings come in a report by the Department for Work and Pensions about 12 local authority pilots of the new benefits system. It has been published as the Universal Credit system is rolled out to job centres in Oldham and Warrington, having been started in Wigan and Ashton-Under-Lyne earlier this year.

It said Lewisham LBC found 52% of social housing tenants did not have internet access at home, and Birmingham City Council found 50% of the social housing tenants visiting its letting suite did not have an email address.

The report added that additional survey work found “there are large groups of service users who have limited access to the internet from home and who lack IT skills”.

However, it said internet access was less of a problem in other parts of the country. Bath BC found 62% of council service users had access to a PC at home and 86% said they could make online claims.

It said some councils had found ways to address the issue, such as Rushcliffe BC which had installed internet terminals at customer contact centres. However, a plan by Dumfries and Galloway Council to encourage claimants to use internet facilities in libraries “did not yield the expected results” because “many customers rarely visited local libraries”.

The report, published last week, also said some councils had found claimants were reluctant to take part in group sessions on “budgeting and financial training” – a key element of the new system, under which claimants will switch from receiving weekly benefits payments to monthly ones.

It said this could in part be due to “the stigma of engaging in sessions which may highlight personal debt and rent arrears issues”.

In some places, it said, group sessions on financial education had been cancelled because uptake was so low.