Benefits and Work has heard from two more library assistants who are expected to support universal Credit (UC) claimants as part of their work.
One library assistant was ‘horrified’ to discover that colleagues were questioning applicants about their circumstances and providing advice at a desk in the middle of a public library and refuses to do the same, in spite of coming under pressure to do so.
The other has yet to support any claimants but says that they had just one afternoon’s training on UC, which left them feeling ‘really depressed’ and believing the system to be flawed.
The first library assistant told us:
“I am a Library Assistant and part of my role includes scanning documents to support claims for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support and acting as a 'reception' for the local authority's benefit claiming, advice line.
“I received Verification training from members of our claims team and our role was clearly defined. We were bluntly told that we were not to help completing forms. Trained staff were available to complete forms for applicants at other locations and the local authority fund a community agents scheme who can carry out home visits.
“The desk for this work is not private and in the open library. I was frankly horrified to discover that some colleagues were questioning applicants about their circumstances, providing advice and completing forms for people. The Library Manager encourages staff to 'assist' customers as much as they felt comfortable as applicants are 'in need'.
“I flagged up the dangers of this practise on more than one occasion. Indeed, I argued that people 'in need' require assistance from trained professionals and need sign posting not the dabbling of enthusiastic amateurs.
“I was labelled 'hard and unhelpful' and accused of being 'highly critical' of colleagues. I was then sent for 'benefit training' only for the Head of the Department to not only confirm my position but to express grave concern that form filling was going on. The Head pointed out that as the library staff are not supposed to assist with form completion, training updates were not provided.
“To date, some of my colleagues continue to assist when they get the opportunity. In fact, the manager actively encourages us to do so as 'we've all filled in forms at some point so can help' And, we've been told that if we can't assist someone there and then we're to ask them to come back!!!
I stick to carrying out the work as trained.
“We have received very basic UC training and are expected to assist applicants but only with computer related queries i.e. logging on, how to select an option, use a drop down menu. I have only encountered two UC applicants to date and both just required computer assistance; can't speak for my colleagues.”
The second library assistant wrote:
"Assisted Digital Support (ADS) is not only librarians in [place name redacted]. Library Assistants , at my level, have to do it too. I’ve had one afternoon of training. Although I’ve not had any actual claims to do, it was obvious at the training that the system is flawed.
"The entire system requires a level of computer literacy that I suspect a lot of people on benefits won't have. If they do the training we offer at the library on computer literacy, for say 2 full days a week, it would take 2 weeks to get to the level required for UC applications. That means they are basically in limbo for 7 weeks including 2 weeks to learn computing skills needed (if they even could) and then 5 weeks when they won't be paid anything. Our guidelines advise us to tell them to contact a food bank. I was really depressed after the training day.
"At some libraries/hub sites they wouldn’t be able to deliver ADS, as its just one person. Instead, they would be told where the computers are and be given the basic help in signing up for email and then pointed to available computer training. If they needed any help beyond that they would be sent to a larger site."
We’d be interested to hear from more people who are required to provide support to UC claimants even though they are not welfare benefits specialists.