EXTRA help is available for people who are struggling to make Universal Credit claims.

Bridport and District Citizens Advice last week started offering extra help to people struggling with the new social security system, which replaces six means-tested benefits and tax credits with a single monthly payment.

It was first introduced in west Dorset just over a year ago.

The CAB has introduced a new 'Help to Claim' project, which is being run by volunteer Sarah Silcox from the offices on South Street, Bridport.

Sarah said:"I'm really looking forward to this new role - Universal Credit is a benefit that potentially affects huge numbers of people, many of whom don't feel comfortable, or simply can't, use a computer or telephone to manage their claim.

“My job will be to help and support all those entitled to claim UC to do so, but particularly this group."

The initial plan is for Sarah to be available to meet claimants on Thursday mornings and for other volunteers to do face-to-face appointments throughout the week.

Sarah will also undertake telephone and webchat sessions on Universal Credit from 1pm to 3pm on Thursdays and 1pm to 4pm on Fridays.

From the beginning of this month, The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has agreed to fund Citizens Advice to provide a support scheme to help claimants through every step of making a Universal Credit claim.

As a result, and in addition to the work being undertaken by Sarah, people wanting help with their claim for Universal Credit can now contact Citizens Advice on a national freephone number which is 0800 144 8444.

A webchat support service is also available through its website.

Bridport CAB manager, Rovarn Wickremasinghe, said: “I am delighted that we can now give additional help to people claiming Universal Credit.

“Many people are experiencing difficulties with filling in the online claim forms and a particular problem for many of them is finding all the information that is required. The most common problems occur with verifying ID and obtaining all the evidence that is needed. They may have to provide, for example, details of health conditions, housing issues and childcare arrangements."

“There are various stages involved in making a Universal Credit claim and if a deadline is missed it may be necessary to start the process again. The complexities of the system mean that around 25 per cent of the people assisted by us spend more than a week completing their claim.”

Bridport CAB continues to hold sessions at Bridport Library on Tuesday mornings between 10am and midday for specific advice on issues relating to income maximisation and benefit issues, including getting help with Universal Credit. People attending these have the use of the computers in the library to go online and make their claim.