For many of us the digital age has brought about new and ever more convenient ways of going about our day to day lives. Whether it’s doing our online banking, ordering the weekly food shop or buying presents for that family member whose birthday we forgot; digitalisation has generally made life easier. But for us here at Citizens Advice and Rights Fife (CARF), and for our service users, the launch of Universal Credit – the first truly online benefit – has meant that we have had to think carefully about the barriers people face when it comes to digital engagement.  

Since the roll out of Universal credit in 2017, we have seen a steady increase in the number of people visiting our Bureau for help because of poor digital skills. Digital exclusion can impact people from all walks of life; with age, literacy and language issues all creating barriers. There is also a lack of awareness amongst these claimants of the support available to manage their claim and to upskill themselves going forwards.  

The Digital Participation Charter Fund, allowed us to launch the ‘Develop a Habit with a Tablet’ (DAHWAT) service. The aim was to improve the client journey by offering a digital tour of Universal Credit to future claimants. By ensuring that our clients left with an idea of how the new benefit works and all the support available to help them, we hoped that from day one, they would have an easier transition on to the new benefit.   

The funding from SCVO allowed us to purchase smart phones and tablets for our Bureau and ‘Pop Up’ outreach team. To avoid creating a greater workload for our advisers, Clients were shown two videos one on making a claim and one on navigating their journal. These were shown at the end of the interview, following which clients could ask any questions and agree next steps. Uptake on the project was good, with clients reporting that they left feeling much more aware of how Universal Credit worked and the support available. 

As well as delivering DAHWAT, we were also interested to learn how the digital devices could improve other parts of our service. One key aspect was around accessing journals for existing UC claimants. As this involved using our own bureau computers we were keen to look at ways of mitigating any risk to data. The tablets allowed visitors to our drop in session’s confidential access to their journal, without jeopardizing our own IT security.  

The project has had a really positive influence on how we approach our work and we have tablets and smart phones in all of our offices now. These are used to help gain secure access to accounts, make claims and to give tours of the customer journal. Our experience in delivering the project over the last year has paved the way for us to deliver the new nationwide ‘Help to Claim’ service, which helps the most vulnerable make their claim for UC and get to their first payment date. We have had a head start, as so many of our staff and volunteers have experience in dealing with the digital challenges of the claims process. 

We have also taken away some great outcomes in the form of learning and best practice. For example, we piloted scanning forms and documents with their devices, saving a huge amount of paper and time. The tablets are also used to help clients with other types of enquires, such as council tax enquires or applications to the Scottish Welfare Fund, where we need to complete online forms quickly and conveniently. 

For me the project has been a great learning experience. It has taught us a lot about the changing demands placed upon our service by the move to digital, and allowed us to pilot a project that delivered great outcomes – to service users and to us as an organisation. A big thank you to everyone at SCVO Digital and BT for their support.