Benefits and Work has heard from a librarian who is deeply concerned at the role they are being forced to take in assisting people with universal credit (UC) claims, most of whom are being referred to them by the DWP, the local authority or citizens advice bureaux.
The librarian, who does not wish to be named, contacted us because they were very worried about the details of serious issues, including cancer and suicide attempts that people ended up sharing with a librarian in a public place.
The librarian was also concerned that people were unlikely to get the right award of UC because they were not getting the kind of help and advice that they really need to make an effective application.
We have withheld some of the details because of the possibility of individuals being able to identify themselves or someone they know.
The librarian told us:
“I thought you might be interested in the situation regarding applying for universal credit and claimants are directed to local libraries.
“This began in April this year where library staff were given rudimentary training on how to ‘assist’ claimants for UC. Now DWP and CA [Citizens Advice] staff are directing people to libraries for assistance. Library staff are instructed that it is strictly assistance with digital matters that is to given. No input to be made on claimants behalf.
“This is proving very stressful for library staff as there is a Human story behind every claim. Eg some people have suffered a stroke and cannot use a keyboard.
“The UC application is not an easy one. It is quite ambiguous and doesn’t have scope to give full details of claimants situation. It is very black and white.
“There have been occasions where I have stopped giving assistance and suggested that they contact welfare rights officer because their situation doesn’t fit the question.
“We don’t get to hear the outcome of claimants or get any feedback but I suspect that claims will be given the minimum as not all relevant information can be collected.
“I find it very disturbing.
“I personally have completed around 20 ADS (assisted digital support) trying to be sympathetic to each client and 'trying' to avoid seeing their personal circumstances.
“I really think this is an invasion of someone's privacy.
However, most people are willing to share their personal business as they are bewildered with the process and in my opinion 'beaten'.
“In our town CAB are actually sending clients to the library.
“On top of all this people don't have the necessary ID to complete their application so are being referred back to the Jobcentre to have their ID verified which is in the next town and incurring additional expense for their travel.
“It's all very worrying.”
We absolutely agree that sending people to a library for “digital support” with a highly confidential and, for many people with health conditions, frequently distressing form-filling process is very worrying.
We’d be interested to hear from anyone else who provides, or has received, support with a UC claim in a library or other inappropriate setting.