Fears raised over plans to digitise benefits system

 

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Millions of Britons could struggle to claim unemployment support under the government's online overhaul of work-related benefits, more than 70 organisations will warn MPs. 

Bodies representing councils, charities, trades unions, business groups and housing associations are due to raise concerns over plans to shift benefits online under the universal credit system.

The flagship reform aims to make claiming benefits simpler by replacing the existing "costly" and "outdated" jobseeker's allowance, tax credits, income support, employment and support allowances, and housing benefits, with one monthly benefit payment online.

But in more than 500 pages of written evidence due to be submitted to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, organisations argue that millions who have never used the internet and with poor IT skills could be left unable to access unemployment benefits.

"The new universal credit system credit system risks causing difficulties to the 8.5million people who have never used the internet and a further 14.5m who have virtually no ICT skills," said Citizens Advice in its written submission, seen by BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend.

The charity also warned that paying universal credit monthly and to just one person per household could "upset the family dynamic".

Concerns have also been raised that online system may not be ready by October next year. Eight million households are due to be signed-up before 2017.

"The new system's tight delivery timetable, coupled with low awareness among companies, is a risk to business and to the implementation of the universal credit," said the Women's Budget Group.

The Local Government Association which represents 423 councils said there was a "real risk" that the government computer systems "will not be ready on time".

The tight deliver timetable, coupled with low awareness among companies, was a "risk to business and to the implementation of the universal credit," said the CBI business organisation.

But many organisations acknowledged that the government's motivations for reform were sound with submissions to MPs.

The Department for Work and Pensions today said rigorous testing of the computer system was already under way. It added that managing the benefit online would save money with those who struggle to use the system given access to face-to-face hep and telephone assistance.

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