Universal Credit claimants are being advised that they can access their online application by visiting their local library.
Durham County Council’s libraries and Customer Access Points offer free internet access, which residents can use to submit and update their claim form. Staff are also on hand to help if needed.
Universal Credit is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and merges six benefits, including housing benefit and tax credits, into a single payment. The system, which is already in place for some claimants, is being rolled out into the Peterlee and Seaham areas this week.
Cllr Joy Allen, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for transformation, said: “Universal Credit can only be claimed online and once someone has submitted their application, they are also responsible for managing it online.
“We want to make sure that anyone who does not have access to a computer, tablet or smart phone at home knows they can use self-service PCs at our libraries and customer access points to submit and manage their claim.
“There is no charge to use these facilities – you just need to check the opening hours for your local library or Customer Access Point.”
Universal Credit is paid every four weeks, but due to the initial waiting period, and depending on when the first claim is made, the first payment may not be made for six weeks.
Cllr Jane Brown, Cabinet member for social inclusion, said: “We’ve been working with the DWP, local community, voluntary groups, landlords and housing providers to ensure residents are aware of changes to the benefits system and how these changes may affect them.
“Working with the County Durham Advice Partnership, we have put a series of measures in place to enable people to access advice and assistance on how to submit a claim under the new system.
“And we’re also making sure residents know where they can get help if they are struggling to make ends meet while they are waiting for their first payment.”
Personal budgeting support is available to residents who have been referred through the DWP and the council will also be supporting and encouraging claims for council tax discount through its Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
In addition, anyone visiting a council building can take advantage of free wi-fi in order to access their application via a smartphone or tablet.
Residents can also apply for short-term awards to help with daily living expenses through the authority’s Welfare Assistance Scheme. For more information, visit www.durham.gov.uk/welfareassistance.
Access to computers at libraries and Customer Access Points can be booked in advance in person at any of the venues.
Support is also available by calling the council’s customer services team on 03000 260 000.