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Concern over lack of internet access for Universal Credit claimants


By Jean Gunn


CONCERN has been expressed about the number of Caithness people having problems trying to get Universal Credit through lack of internet access.

Iain Gregory, deputy manager of Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau, said: "At the moment this is an issue. It is causing a problem locally, but we are on hand to make sure we can help people with it."

Mr Gregory estimated that around half of the Caithness people seeking help with Universal Credit – which must be applied for online – do not know how to use a computer and often the first thing the local CAB advisers do is set clients up with their own email address.

He said problems also arise in maintaining the online journals, particularly for someone with poor literacy skills.

Mr Gregory was speaking after the release of a new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) revealing that as many as one in three people seeking help with Universal Credit don’t have access to the internet to make their claim.

CAS has submitted evidence to Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on the introduction of digital technologies to social protection systems.

As part of the submission the charity has produced new analysis from its client database which shows that, in April 2019, 34 per cent of Scots seeking CAB help with Universal Credit did so because they could not access the internet.

Caithness CAB deputy manager Iain Gregory.
Caithness CAB deputy manager Iain Gregory.

Commenting on the figures, Mr Gregory said: “This report largely reflects our own experience locally, although I think that in this area the percentage of people requiring assistance with digital access for benefit claims is notably higher than 34 per cent – I would think that it is closer to 50 per cent.

"As always, Caithness CAB is ready and able to assist people at our bureaux in Wick and Thurso, and our expert staff are on hand to make sure that Caithness residents can obtain their entitlements.”

CAS policy officer Eilidh McIvor said: “We think the UK Government should ensure there are suitably supported off-line options to help people make and maintain their claims, such as over the phone or face-to-face support, as well as home visits.

“These options should be available to all claimants, but should be specifically targeted to people with health conditions, disabilities or other complex needs. People who are vulnerable should not be penalised for having no internet access.

“Citizens Advice Scotland also believes there should be a fundamental review of the purpose and efficacy of the sanctions regime and the impact it has on people and services."

CAS has also submitted to the UN and Scottish MPs its latest Voice From the Frontline briefing, which presents a number of anonymous case studies, including:

  • A client suffering from chronic anxiety and depression who has been repeatedly sanctioned for not updating his online journal correctly. He has no computer skills or access to the internet at home. He has no money at all and he is reliant on crisis grants and food parcels.
  • A distressed client who has worked in manual jobs all his life and does not know how to turn on a computer, let alone how to log on to and update his journal.
  • A housebound man who has been signed off work for a minimum of 13 weeks following knee surgery, who is without access to a computer and is struggling to afford regular mobile data top-ups.


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