People preparing to claim Universal Credit are being advised that they can set up and access their online application by visiting their local library.
Universal Credit, which is already in place for some claimants in the Seaham and Peterlee areas, is being rolled out to Bishop Auckland, Crook, Consett, Stanley and some parts of Barnard Castle this week for new claimants and those on existing benefits who have had a change in their circumstances.
And in preparation for the roll-out, Durham County Council is reminding residents that its libraries and Customer Access Points all offer free internet access, which they can use to submit and update their claim form. Staff are also on hand at Customer Access Points to help if needed.
Cllr Jane Brown, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “The latest phase of the roll-out of Universal Credit in County Durham will mean a number of people will be submitting a claim over the coming weeks.
“We’ve been working closely with the DWP and other organisations, including the Advice in County Durham Partnership, to ensure people understand the changes to the benefit system and how these changes may affect them.
“We’re also making sure that help is at hand for people who are having difficulty with the application process, with staff at our Customer Access Points available to offer advice and guidance, where needed to supplement the support available from the DWP via their JobCentre Plus offices.”
Administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Universal Credit merges six benefits, including housing benefit and tax credits, into a single payment.
It is paid every four weeks, but due to the initial waiting period, and depending on when the first claim is made, the first payment may not be made for six weeks. Claimants can make a request for an advance payment, currently up to 50 per cent of their entitlement, which would be paid more quickly.
Cllr Joy Allen, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for transformation, said: “Online access is crucial for submitting an application for Universal Credit and keeping it up to date.
“We understand that some people may not have access to a computer, tablet or smart phone at home, so we want to remind them that they can use the self-service PCs at our libraries and Customer Access Points to submit and manage their claim.”
“The council’s website also includes details of other buildings where residents can access the internet in their local area.”
If residents need help with paying their council tax, the council continues to support and encourage claims through its Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
In addition, anyone visiting a council building can take advantage of free wi-fi in order to access their application via a smartphone or tablet.
Residents can also apply for short-term awards to help with daily living expenses through the authority’s Welfare Assistance Scheme. For more information, visit www.durham.gov.uk/welfareassistance.
Access to computers at libraries and Customer Access Points can be booked in advance in person at any of the venues.
Support is also available by calling the council’s customer services team on 03000 260 000.