As the rollout date for the new Universal Credit approaches many benefits
claimants have expressed anxiety over using the online application system.
This is the first benefit that has to be applied for via an online form and
as it replaces a number of other benefits the changes will impact a large
proportion of our society.
Universal Credit Explained
The new Universal Credit benefit will be rolled out in October this year and
will act as an umbrella benefit that will replace several existing benefits
currently claimed by those on a low income or looking for work.
Universal Credit replaces Income Support, Child and Working Tax Credits,
Housing Benefit, income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance and income-related
Employment and Support Allowance. It will be paid as a single monthly
payment into the claimant`s bank account in the same way a salary would be
paid and has been introduced to make the benefits system simpler and promote
Potential Issues with the Online Claim Process
Universal Credit has been designed so that claimants can apply and manage
their claim online, which will be welcomed by many people as it gives and
up-to-date picture of their claim and provides more control for the
The system will allow people to view their claim and see what stage their
application is at, while enabling them to update the Department for Work and
Pensions easily and quickly with any changes to their circumstances.
However, there are several potential drawbacks to the online application
process, which could cause anxiety, errors, feelings of isolation and
increased financial hardship for claimants.
The obvious issues include lack of IT experience and lack of access to a
computer, which would particularly affect those with additional support
needs and those on low incomes. These groups of people may feel excluded and
raise the question of why more choice hasn’t been factored into the design
of this new benefit.
Additionally, those whose first language is not English may struggle with an
online application system as claimants are likely to be making an
application on their own rather than sitting down with a member of staff at
the Jobcentre. This could lead to errors and confusion about what is being
asked of them, which could delay their claim and lead to an unnecessary
period of financial hardship.
The online system may promote independence and self-motivation, but as there
will be no trained member of staff assisting with the application if a
person makes a mistake it could be months or even years before it is
uncovered and rectified.
Mistakes could lead to claims being refused or overpayments being made and
then having to be repaid at some point in the future, so applicants are
likely to feel a sense of anxiety over whether they are using the online
application correctly and whether their awarded amount of benefit is
This lack of support will impact greatest on the most vulnerable in society
and risks creating a cloud of confusion similar to that seen when Employment
and Support Allowance was introduced in place of Incapacity Benefit and
This online system may even prevent those who struggle with computers or are
illiterate from claiming benefits they are entitled to because they are
ashamed to ask for help or don’t know where to turn for help.
A DWP published document has responded to these concerns by stating that
support to make an online application will be offered to those who need it
in the form of a telephone assistance service or face-to-face support
These support services will either help claimants to use a computer or work
through the online form with them, which will be of great use to many
people. However, the availability of this support and how involved these
services will get in the event of any problems is not yet clear.
If you find yourself struggling with the new system do seek support from
your local Citizens Advice office or Jobcentre, who may be able to signpost
you to a source of assistance. Lastly, if you are struggling financially you
could access the free resources offered by Simply Finance such as
budgeting guides and debt advice.