Ferryhill charity warns of chaos if internet access is not improved before most benefit claims go online (From The Northern Echo)
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Ferryhill charity warns of chaos if internet access is not improved before most benefit claims go online
THE Government must provide better access to the internet for jobseekers or risk chaos when most benefit claims are moved online.
The warning came from the charity, the Ladder project in Ferryhill, County Durham, which has seen a big increase in jobless people queuing up to use its computers since Jobseekers Allowance went online.
The project, which provides a range of services, has been struggling to cope with the flood of people wanting to use their computers to fulfill Government requirements.
The pressure on the centre's 11 laptops increased significantly after Ferryhill Library - which has a number of computers available to the public - recently reduced its opening hours from six to three days a week because of spending cuts.
Staff and volunteers at the centre fear that the situation will get much worse later this year when a range of other benefits will become dependent on access to the internet.
Kath Merrington, manager of the Ladder centre, which was opened by the then Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2002, said: "With universal credit coming in, in October, if we don't have adequate internet access in place, how will we cope when everyone who is on welfare benefits will be doing this?"
The centre's weekly Jobs Club, which teaches basic IT skills, now runs three times a week to cope with demand.
"Some jobseekers have to complete 33 actions a week and it all has to be reported online," said Mrs Merrington.
Jobseeker Ray Watson, 59, said: "I can't afford the internet, I haven't even got a phone at home.
"I have to come here to use the internet and sometimes it is so busy that I have to wait downstairs for an hour."
Manager Kath Merrington
A Department of Work and Pensions spokeswoman said claimants can claim their Jobseeker's Allowance online, or by phone.
She added: "Universal Credit will prepare people for the world of work by getting them to access the benefit online and budget their money in the same way people in work budget.
"But we know some people will need extra support to manage this, and we're committed to ensuring that no one falls through the cracks.
"We are working with local authorities to determine who will need this extra help - be it money advice services, face to face support or help to get online - and how best to deliver it."
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