Benefits fears for non-net users

Keyboard and mouseChanges to the benefit system risk placing a greater burden on vulnerable claimants who do not have access to the internet, a major affordable housing firm has warned.

Universal Credit will streamline a number of existing benefits into one payment from October, with most people managing their claim online under the plans.

But those with no access to the internet are in danger of falling into arrears, debt or even eviction unless the Government gives them enough face-to-face support to help them through the changes, Circle Housing Group said.

The group, which provides 65,000 homes in England, said that a survey of more than 1,000 of its own tenants found that about three-quarters (76%) do not use internet banking and only 46% feel confident about using technology.

One third of social housing residents surveyed said that they stay awake at night worrying about money and a quarter said they did not know where to start to improve their financial situation.

Mark Rogers, group chief executive at Circle Housing Group, said: "We recognise the Government is moving to Universal Credit so people receiving benefit can take responsibility for managing their money, and that this will help ease the transition to work.

"The results of our study suggest, however, that there is a real risk of people falling down the gap during the transition and we are keen to work with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find solutions.

"Online and phone banking will suit some but others will need a different kind of support to ensure they don't fall into problems such as arrears, debt and eviction."

A DWP spokesman said that its own figures indicate that internet use among benefit claimants is already widespread. He said that 78% of working-age benefit claimants already use the internet and almost half of these people (48%) go online every day.

The spokesman said: "There will be face-to-face support and telephone support for people who need it. Many people won't need support but some might need more."
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