Concern at web benefits switch
COUNCILS do not have the resources to help thousands of residents struggling to keep tabs on their benefits when the claims process goes online, the Government has been warned.
Claimants will be expected to apply for and monitor their claims on the internet as part of a 'digital by default' strategy linked to Government welfare reforms.
Universal Credit, which combines six separate benefits into one from October, will be processed online.
The Government says almost 80 per cent of people will be able to access claims online but wants councils to offer face-to-face help for those who cannot understand or access the system.
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It means they will have to support those without internet access and the severely disabled – but the Government has still not explained how.
The Citizens' Advice Bureau said thousands of claimants, including those with severe disabilities and in deprived communities, face 'complications and barriers' because of the online requirement.
Labour-run Stoke-on-Trent City Council said it is concerned about the impact on residents who are not online – and how it will cope with the new responsibility as its own resources dwindle in budget cuts.
Deputy leader Paul Shotton said: "The Government has said Universal Credit will be 'digital by default' and that local authorities will have a role in assisting those customers who have difficulty making an online application. There is no clarity yet about what this role will be.
"A significant proportion of people do not access the internet via a computer, with an increasing number connecting through their mobile phones instead.
"We are well aware that the people most likely not to have internet access are the very people in need of our help.
"If they can't access their benefits, they will become even more vulnerable and require our services in other ways.
"Whatever the Government asks us to do we need to consider the needs of these people as we redesign the ways in which they access our services."
Councillor Andrew Lilley, chairman of the business services scrutiny committee overseeing welfare changes in the city, has warned of 'queues around the block' with residents asking the council for support at a time it is making hundreds of redundancies.
The Department for Work and Pensions said 78 per cent of working age claimants use the internet and that Job Centres will also be expected to offer support.
A spokesman said: "Universal Credit will be paid monthly and accessed online because that reflects the experiences of working people.
"The system needs to make it easier for people to move into work, but we've been clear from the outset that we will take steps to ensure vulnerable people don't miss out.
"We're already working with councils and the financial industry on the best ways to support individuals."