How new Universal Credit claimants in Sunderland can get more help
Hundreds of people have flocked to use a new service aimed at speeding up initial Universal Credit claims.
Four staff at Sunderland's Citizens Advice branch, in Waterloo Place, now devote their time to helping people apply for the controversial benefit payment as part of a £39m nationwide project.
The initial one-year Help to Claim scheme is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and is in addition to the DWP's own criticised helpline service.
Staff hold one-to-one appointments with claimants at the branch as well as at the Jobcentres in the city centre, Southwick, Washington and Houghton.
In less than two months staff have already helped 293 people with queries about the online-only applications.
Among the trends staff have noticed is that people in their 40s and upwards may not either be comfortable with computers or have access to one.
Branch manager Denise Irving said: "One of the reasons behind the new service is to help people to understand the digital requirements of Universal Credit and we can help them up to their first claim.
"Clearly there is still a certain number of people who are not comfortable digitally so it can be good to have someone sitting alongside you to help you."
Appointments for first time Universal Credit claimants can be made by dropping into the Waterloo Place office from 9am-4pm between Mondays-Wednesdays.
Appointments for the visits by Citizens Advice staff to Jobcentres have to be made through the Jobcentres themselves.
A free national Citizens Advice Help to Claim telephone service is also available weekdays from 8am-6pm Mondays-Fridays on 0800 1448444.
Further details about the service and web chats with advisors are available from www.citizensadvice.org.uk