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Citizens Advice Bureau
Digital Access in
Ensuring clients are not left behind by the Digital by Default Agenda
1. Executive Summary 3
2. Digital Access in Derbyshire 4
3. Where to Get Help? 6
4. Conclusion and Recommendations 9
Appendix 1: List of Resources 11
The introduction of Universal Credit carries with it an expectation that claimants will
engage with the benefit online, both with regard to the initial application and the
further administration of their claim. This follows an increasing emphasis on online
technologies - as exemplified by Universal Jobmatch, which went online in
November 2012 - and these services can give us an insight into some of the benefits
and problems that we might encounter with Universal Credit.
Chief amongst the concerns is the Government’s ‘Digital by Default’ agenda, which
assumes that the majority of benefit claimants not only have access to the internet,
but will be confident enough to use the online application user interface. In fact
Cabinet Office figures state that 18% of the national population are not regularly
. Our research suggests a slightly higher figure, but when we also consider
those claimants who are online, but who are not comfortable with - or confident
enough - about using the internet to make an online claim, we can predict that
roughly half our clients will need additional support.
The Government has stated that it is its intention to create digital services that are so
straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so.
Those who can’t will not be excluded - the term ‘Assisted Digital’ being used to
describe the options that will be available to this group. The DWP continues to work
with local authorities to establish a network of help. However, what appears to have
emerged so far is the reliance on existing facilities in libraries and UK Online
Centres. What isn’t clear is whether these facilities will be able to cope with the
Furthermore, the DWP states that telephone and face-to-face help will still be
available for those who are unable manage their claim online. Nevertheless, we
have some concerns about who will be able to access this help, and how they will
get to know that these options are open to them. Jobcentres can also refer clients to
IT training courses, but again we have concerns about how effective these are.
Inevitably Citizens Advice Bureaux will begin to see more clients who need help
managing their benefits online, and we can help by providing information and advice
on the process. Providing practical assistance may be more problematic – we
understand that the application process could take up to an hour and a half, and this
could be a significant drain on our resources. However, if there is sufficient demand,
and we can provide suitable facilities, it may be worth considering running group
sessions in which clients can be supervised in making an application.
Government Digital Strategy, November 2012
Digital Access in Derbyshire
Recent Office of National Statistics (ONS) data show the number of adults with
internet access in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire as being 85.5% of the total adult
. However, there is a danger in assuming that the ability to access the
internet equates to the ability to manage an online application. In February and
March of 2013 Derbyshire Districts Citizens Advice Bureau (DDCAB) invited its
clients to take part in a survey about their internet usage. We found that 70% of our
clients used the internet. The discrepancy with the ONS figures may be explained
because our survey sample represents a more particular demographic. We see a
high proportion of clients from lower income households, who perhaps cannot afford
access to the internet. Obviously, this is also the group most reliant on welfare.
An alternative explanation for our lower figure is the nature of the question. We
asked ‘do you use the internet?’ not ‘do you have access?’ This is an important
distinction, as measuring people’s access to the internet tells us nothing about their
confidence in using various services. When we asked our respondents what they
used the internet for, services involving financial transactions, or managing personal
information scored relatively low. Only 25% used it for banking, for example, and
just 9% for accessing government services such as TV Licensing, Car Tax and
Types of Internet Usage – DDCAB Client Survey Feb/March 2013
With the Digital by Default agenda in mind we asked our clients if they were
confident finding information and completing forms online. Only 53% answered yes.
Even fewer, 43%, said that they would be happy to apply for benefits online. The
Government reportedly expects 80% of claims for Universal Credit to be made
Office of National Statistics, Internet Access Quarterly Update, Q1 2013
online, but with roughly half our clients unable or uncomfortable with making an
online application, this figure seems ambitious.
It is also worth noting that 31% of our respondents accessed the internet via a
mobile phone. We understand that that making an online claim for Universal Credit
could take up to an hour and a half. A phone is perhaps not the easiest device to
use when completing online forms at the best of times, but a process that takes this
long will not only be extremely trying, but the cost to the claimant is likely to be
Where to get Help?
Our survey revealed two overwhelming reasons why our clients don’t use the
internet. One is the lack of access, with many of our clients responding that they
simply cannot afford a computer. The other reason is the lack of ability and/or
confidence in using the internet. In fact, in a second survey carried out in May and
June, we asked clients if they would feel confident about making an application
online. Rather than offer a simple choice of yes or no, we gave our clients a third
option: that of making an online claim, but with supervision or assistance. Almost a
quarter of our clients answered that they would only be able to make the claim if they
Clients able to manage claims online – DDCAB Client Survey May/June 2013
This response strongly suggests that in order to realise the Government’s ambition
for the majority of claims to be managed online, many claimants will not only need
access to hardware, but also access to information, training and ongoing support. It
is expected that claimants will be able to access help from the following places.
Many people are already aware of the availability of computers in public libraries. At
present, Derbyshire County Council’s library service has over 400 computers which
are used by 12,000 people a week3
, and can be booked up to six days in advance.
Normally, computers are booked for one hour but library staff have been made
aware that claimants will be signposted to them from Jobcentres and, because of the
lengthy claiming process, this limitation will be relaxed. However, at this stage
libraries have had no indication of how great this additional demand on their services
will be. They have had no additional hardware nor staff, and it is possible that they
will not be able to provide the levels of assistance that claimants may need. The
DWP have provided a helpline number (0845 6043719) that staff can issue to clients,
but there are concerns about how practical it would be to use this in a library
environment, and also the cost to mobile users.
The Government have said that frontline staff will continue to play a vital role4
of the Assisted Digital programme. This may include telephone applications or a
face-to-face appointment where claimants will be assisted to make an application on
What is not yet clear is how easy it will be for claimants to access this support. Will
they be made aware that these options are available to them? For example, the
document ‘Making Your Universal Credit Claim’ published in April 2013 states quite
boldly that a Universal Credit application should be made online and gives no further
In Derbyshire, Universal Credit has yet to be introduced, but we have already seen
an example of a client who has been denied the opportunity to make a telephone
claim for JSA.
The client finished work at the end of February and attempted to apply for
JSA by telephone. However, when she rang Jobcentre Plus she was told
that she would have to make a claim online. The client was not in a
position to do this as she did not have access to a computer. Neither did
she feel that she had the necessary skills to use a public computer.
Nevertheless, she was told that this was the only way that she could
make a claim.
With no income, the client came to the CAB for help. After we made
enquiries on her behalf, we established that she could make an
appointment at the Jobcentre, where they would help her to make the
Clearly Jobcentre staff are keen to get people to apply online in advance
of the introduction of Universal Credit, but in doing so they are failing to
provide help and assistance for the significant number of people for
whom this is not an option. In the case of this client it caused
considerable delay in the commencement of her claim, and had she not
sought help, there is a chance that this may have deterred her from
pursuing the claim completely.
In 2012 Derbyshire County Council launched Digital Derbyshire, a £15m programme
designed to improve the County’s internet infrastructure. In addition, the scheme
Government Digital Strategy Nov 2012, Action 9
aims to help get people online, and has held drop-in training sessions at libraries.
They are also promoting getonline@home which supplies refurbished computers and
could provide many people with a cheaper way of getting online.
There are a number of routes that claimants can use to access IT training. For
instance Jobcentre Plus refer claimants to schemes that will help them to use
Universal Jobmatch. However, evidence provided by some of our clients has
indicated that these schemes are not always fit for purpose.
The client is out of work and claiming Jobseeker's allowance. As he has
no experience of IT, he asked Jobcentre Plus to send him on a course.
The course, being run by A4E, was a failure as the PCs only worked 1
hour out of the 6. As a result the client is still unable to use IT.
Jobcentre Plus has since emailed jobs to the client, but because of his
lack of skills he has been unable to access the information.
Consequently he has been sanctioned.
The client has no income whatsoever. He still cannot effectively use IT
and cannot currently afford to travel to the Job Centre. The sanction has
wholly arisen from the inadequacy of the course.
Alternatively, claimants may be able to access IT training at evening classes in
schools or centres of further education, although the cost may prove to be a barrier.
Derbyshire Country Council does offer a concessionary rate, although this only
appears to be available for people already in receipt of a qualifying benefit.
UK Online Centres
UK Online Centres are a network of community partners who offer free or low-cost
access to the internet. Some centres can also offer help and support. Clients can
search for local providers at http://www.ukonlinecentres.com/. In June it was
announced that 11,800 Post Offices will offer a free counter service where staff will
print out a list of the nearest internet access points.
Additionally the organisation has an online resource that introduces visitors to the
basics of using computers and navigating the internet. It can be found here:
Conclusion and Recommendations
‘Assisted Digital’ appears to rely largely on existing facilities. As we have noted,
libraries have been given no additional resources, the UK Online Centres consist of
a pre-existing network and Jobcentre Plus do not appear to be launching any new in-
house measures to help people to get online. The Government is confident that
relatively few people will need support and assistance in order to manage their
claims. Our work with our clients strongly suggests that a greater proportion,
particularly of low income households, will need to be provided with access to the
internet. Still more will need practical advice and assistance to make an application.
It is likely, therefore, that the facilities that exist at present may not be able to meet
this demand, and that bureaux will see more clients coming to them for practical help
in managing their benefit claims. In this event there are a number of options bureaux
1. Produce a step-by-step reference guide to the online application process, which
can also include general help and advice about staying secure online.
2. Keep up to date about the organisations offering internet access and training, and
signpost clients to the most appropriate help.
3. Identify new organisations which may be able to open up their facilities to benefit
claimants. For example, schools and universities, a number of which are already
listed as UK Online Centres.
4. Bureaux can offer their own IT facilities to clients. It is inevitable that clients will
approach CABx for help in administering their online claims. At present,
appointments with advisers to complete a one and a half hour benefit application
would be a significant demand on the generalist service. However, if there is
sufficient demand, and if the right facilities were available, it might be practicable to
run sessions for groups of clients to make benefit applications, with supervision and
support from an adviser. Bureaux that could regularly offer this service may consider
becoming a UK Online Centres partner.
Information and training resource
Derbyshire County Council Adult Education
Searchable database of local IT courses.
Digital Derbyshire is a project to upgrade broadband services in the county.
As an additional aim they hope to increase the numbers of Derbyshire
residents online, and have provided information and introductory training on
using the internet.
Information and training resource. The site also has a searchable database of
Home IT Tutors.
Scheme offering low cost refurbished computers for people on qualifying
Go On UK
Information and training resource
Learn My Way
Web-based training site providing a basic introduction to the internet and
staying safe online.
UK Online Centres
Searchable database of local facilities offering internet access and/or training
and support. Clients will also be able to get a list of local centres from one of
11,800 Post Office branches.