JOBSEEKERS lacking internet access or computer skills are losing out under government guidelines that force people to apply for work online, campaigners claim.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said strict rules, brought in by the Department for Work and Pensions, were hitting the poorest hardest, as many do not have broadband.
The UK government insists that people spend 35 hours a week looking for paid work in order to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA).
CAS said growing numbers of claimants were being told they must look online by job-centre advisers. Those who fail to do this have suffered sanctions, such as being stripped of JSA for two weeks.
Sarah Beattie-Smith, for CAS, said: “The internet has transformed our lives. But there remains a significant number of people who aren’t online – either because they can’t access the internet, or because they don’t have the skills.
“Two-thirds of the lowest-income households in Glasgow, for example, don’t have home broadband. The government’s digital strategy forces claimants to apply for their benefits online – regardless of whether they have reliable internet access or the skills and abilities to use it.
“The same is true of unemployed people. In order to qualify for Jobseekers Allowance, you are now expected to only apply for jobs online. And if you apply instead for jobs in writing or face-to-face, for instance by responding to a card in a shop window, you can be penalised for not using a computer.”
CAS wants the UK government to issue guidance to advisers that claimants do not have to look online for work, but simply show they are looking.
“People who are entitled to benefits should be able to access them in a way which suits their needs, resources and capabilities,” Ms Beattie-Smith said.
The UK government launched its digital strategy in August, covering jobseeking and claiming benefits. It expects 80 per cent of benefits applications to be completed online by 2017.
The Scottish Household Survey of 2009-10 estimated a third of homes in Scotland do not have internet access, rising to almost half in homes with less than £15,000 income.
According to Ofcom, as few as 60 per cent of homes in Glasgow have broadband, much lower than most UK cities.
From October, around 700,000 Scottish households will have to apply for universal credit online.
Citizens’ Advice Bureaux in Scotland helped 19,463 people fill in benefit forms last year, increasingly because of problems with doing so online.
Despite this, the government insisted options are available for people to access the internet, even if they do not have it at home. A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “It makes sense that our services are designed to prepare people for the world of work.
“Around 78 per cent of working-age claimants already use the internet – 48 per cent of those say they log on every day, many to search for jobs. We’ve always recognised some will need extra support to access the internet and so, in preparing for Universal Credit, we are working with local authorities and services to determine who will need extra help – be it money advice services, face-to-face support or help to get online – and how best to deliver it.”