DWP outlines how it will provide online assistance for Universal Credit claimants
Department to work with local authorities to provide personalised help
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced how it plans to provide online support for benefit claimants who may require assistance with issues such as budgeting or using the internet.
According to a document released today by the DWP and the Local Government Association, entitled "Universal Credit: Local Support Services Framework", a survey of existing claimants found that 78% already use the internet, although only 14% have put in a new claim for benefit online.
However, the report explains, some claimants will need extra help to adjust to the new model of claiming associated with UC, either because they face a particular temporary issue, or because they have additional long-term needs.
According to a DWP spokeswoman, the online support will be targeted towards people who don't have internet access or are not confident about using online services.
The network will be available to help individuals make benefit claims but also to provide access to computers. For example, she said, "some local authorities are already putting PCs into community centres and making more computers available so local residents can get help."
The point of today's report, the spokeswoman added, was to show how the department will focus its attention on those who need extra support during the transition, and as part of a more general shift to get people ready for work. She said, "Most people bank online, shop online and manage that easily. Lots of people do job searches online too. If they were in work they'd be expected to use online facilities- there aren't many jobs where you aren't required to use a computer at some point."
According to the report, in order to enable claimants to make and maintain their claim online, the DWP and its partners need to ensure that:
- "Claimants are helped and encouraged to choose the online channel;
- Claimants are helped to gain access to computers and broadband where they do not have a private connection at home. Rural areas where broadband is not yet widespread may also present a special challenge here that will need to be managed with local support;
- Claimants can get direct help when making online claims, for example, telephone or face to face support when making transactions; and
- Claimants are supported to increase their confidence enabling them to manage their UC account and make transactions online."
In a foreword, Lord Freud explains that UC will be introduced in phases, starting with a pathfinder in Greater Manchester and Chester in April 2013. However, he says this particular framework is aimed at the second phase of the implementation plan, which will start in October 2013.
Freud added, "This framework is the start of a conversation which will evolve over the coming months following feedback from potential delivery partners; learning from 12 local authority-led Universal Credit pilots and six direct payment demonstration projects; and our experience of Phase 1 operations."
DWP last week appointed Andy Nelson as its new chief information officer to replace Philip Langsdale. Nelson will also take on the DWP's digital leader mantle, a DWP spokesperson confirmed today.