City pledges online help for Universal Credit claimants

People who don’t use the internet are being targeted in a major new Council project to stop them from losing out on benefits, services and work.

The city is launching a project to target pockets of the population, who are not comfortable using the web, to give them the chance to learn the online basics.

It is estimated 38,000 Plymouth households are not connected to the internet and they will be encouraged initially through training to take up new opportunities so that they can use online public services, including council and health services and crucially, the welfare benefits system.

Under the new welfare reforms, the government is pushing for all potential claimants of the new Universal Credit – which replaces current benefits such as Housing Benefit and Job Seeker’s Allowance – to access the fund online.

BT is contributing £65,000 a year towards the three year project through the digital inclusion charity, Citizens Online with the remainder of the £291,000 project funded by city partners including the Council, Plymouth Community Homes, the Plymouth Health Community and Jobcentre Plus.

Council Leader Tudor Evans said: “Now more than ever, people need to master the basics. If they do not, they will miss out financially as well as on access to services others take for granted. More services are now online because, quite simply, it is cheaper and more efficient. We would love to give the personal touch, but with Government cuts, we are simply not a position to.

“We appreciate some people need a little extra guidance, which is what this project is all about: finding out who needs help and getting it to them. It will open doors for an awful lot of people.”

The project will play a long-term role in encouraging people to upgrade their skills, he said, adding: “By 2015, 90 per cent of all jobs will require some sort of ICT skills. The clock is ticking and if we’re serious about growth and about creating opportunities, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to get online.”

BT Regional Programmes Manager Paul Coles said: “This exciting project has the capacity to open up new social life for older residents, help families make significant savings by paying bills online and help Plymouth’s next generation gear up for sustainable jobs.”

Clive Turner, Chief Executive of Plymouth Community Homes said: “For us it’s incredibly important to be part of the successful bid to bring BT funding to people in Plymouth.

“In these fragile economic times, we are doing everything we can to empower our communities to access any services and information they need. This project will help our residents in practical ways with job searches, managing money and getting health and council services. This could not be more important right now.”

Broadband is recognised as a major economic and social enabler and a crucial element in education and skills. The city is in the top ten UK cities for superfast broadband penetration with 93 per cent of the city now covered. The actual take- up of broadband is 77.9 per cent.

The project will: 

* carry out a mapping exercise of those not online 

* identify which groups are not online 

* identify different strategies to address each group

* produce a project plan to prioritise activity for each group

* coordinate with existing projects – including Plymouth SeniorNet 

* recruit volunteers to build on and develop existing good practice 

* provide support and learning opportunities

The scheme will also look at the practical issues of getting online and ideas being explored include cheap recycled laptops and IT through recycling organisations, making the most of existing wireless hot spots and public access computers as well the continued roll out of broadband and wireless.