People preparing to claim Universal Credit for the first time are being offered a helping hand – and free internet access.
Durham County Council has appointed a team of digital support assistants to help people set up and access their online applications.
The support staff are based at the council’s Customer Access Points, where members of the public can also take advantage of free internet access. Free online access is also available at the authority’s libraries.
Universal Credit, which is already in place for many residents around the county, is currently being rolled out in Chester-le-Street, Durham, Newton Aycliffe and Spennymoor for new claimants and those on existing benefits who have had a change in their circumstances.
This is the final phase of the roll-out in County Durham.
Cllr Jane Brown, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “We understand that completing official forms can sometimes be a daunting process especially for anyone who is not confident online.
“Our team of digital support assistants can offer advice and guidance on the process, supplementing the support available from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) via their JobCentre Plus offices.”
Administered by the 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 a first claim is made, the first payment may not be made for six weeks. Claimants can make a request for an advance payment, up to 100 per cent of their entitlement, which would be paid more quickly and recovered over a 12-month period.
Cllr Joy Allen, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for transformation, said: “By visiting our libraries and customer access points, members of the public can not only seek the support of our staff, they can also take advantage of free internet access using our computer facilities.
“Our 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 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.