25 June 2019
Universal Support, Help to Claim is a Local Citizens Advice service funded by government following widespread concern about problems with Universal Credit (UC). It launched in Reigate & Banstead and nationwide in April.
It was a challenge to set up in just over a month after recruitment of new colleagues but the CARBS team was ready to welcome clients on Day 1. As we approach the end of an encouraging first quarter, this is how we got on.
Juliet Barclay is CARBS Help to Claim Project Coordinator
The service was new and untried, so we didn’t really know what to expect. We spread the word with liberal displays of posters, leaflets and cards in our offices and outreach centres in Merstham, Tadworth and Horley. We worked with friends at Job Centre Plus Redhill who are pleased to encourage customers who need extra help to contact us. I’m also pleased that Reigate & Banstead Borough Council and Raven Housing Trust are aware of our service and keen to help; they know they can refer residents who may be able to benefit.
We used online information to get the message out. Through Twitter we’ve been able to brief many Surrey organisations who are in daily touch with thousands of local people who may need help to make a UC claim. Our monthly stakeholder newsletter is a regular reminder of all our services including Help to Claim.
In the event there was steady and growing demand from the start. Not surprisingly perhaps face-to-face appointments are the most popular advice channel. It can be complicated assessing your current situation, including whether you should make, so a conversation is best.
The Help to Claim phone service has also grown steadily. Calls seem to be coming through at lunchtime and towards the end of the day (when advisers are logged off in other parts of the country).
Webchat has been less active although we are logged on every day and committed to at least 12 hours a week; an obvious (and good) reason is that Help to Claim information on the central website is very comprehensive.
|Support Medium||Clients April-June 2019|
How it works
Clients can get advice by phone, online through webchat, or face to face. The launch marketing strapline was ‘No Wrong Door’ – help is accessible to everyone whatever their current situation or level of awareness.
Laptop computers for public use have been set up in our Redhill and Banstead offices; they link directly with GOV.UK Universal Credit Applications and allow us to give direct support to clients as they make their claim.
We’re providing benefit checks for new clients more frequently than we expected – many are unsure if they should be claiming UC. At the same time, we’re dealing with more complex enquiries from clients who are already claiming benefits. Many need guidance on whether it’s in their interests to claim UC or indeed they are now required to do so.
As mentioned, Help to Claim can seem quite complex and daunting. Our Handbooks are clearly written and used by advisers to introduce clients to the process; they are then available for clients to take away for study and use in claiming online in their own time. Also available to advisers and clients is our checklist Getting Ready for Universal Credit; this is an indispensable part of the kit because you can’t make a successful application without required documentary evidence about yourself and your current status.
We expect demand for Help to Claim to continue to grow. We’re planning closer cooperation with Job Centre Plus, including discussing with Redhill JCP the possibility of one of our advisers providing a day of support/presence once a week in their own reception area.
We’re also looking at more referrals from Reigate & Banstead Borough Council which we think will help relieve pressure on their stretched resources. For example, the housing team who have always dealt with housing benefit may want to refer clients who have had a change of circumstance.