Making sure all have online access
The digital age offers so much in education, communication, entertainment, healthcare and more. Unfortunately not everyone is included and without help their quality of life can really suffer.
Alison Kelly is a Volunteer Digital Support Officer at Citizens Advice Epsom & Ewell.
To get help from many local council and government departments these days you must first fill in a form online. They can’t process your application without a form or deal with your issue without a computer reference number.
However some people don’t have a computer or the skills and confidence to use one. They might rely only on a mobile phone. And even with a computer or smart phone some forms are too complex, some error messages too difficult to see. Also there’s the cost of good mobile or internet access which can be prohibitive.
My background is in IT and I always wanted to do something to help people directly. So a year ago, when I saw CAEE wanted someone to support clients with requirements to ‘go digital’, I applied. The number of clients struggling was growing (it still is) and I soon realised my experience would be useful.
Now I volunteer one day a week as a Digital Support Officer. Some of my clients are older people or have disabilities but language barriers are also important. For example English as a second language or dyslexia cover all ages.
Most clients come into the office and together we work our way through their forms. Then we may scan and upload a myriad of required documents; these range from proof of ID to bank statements that must accompany the form.
Vast range of issues
Each week I see 3 or 4 people. The issues they need help with cover a vast range. They could relate to housing, benefits, council tax income discounts, blue badges or parking permits. They might be as straightforward as a change of address request for HMRC.
The work is very rewarding. Lots of clients are successful in achieving the task that was causing the problem. But they also gain skills and confidence for the future which is great.
I’m also pleased to be part of a team here at Citizens Advice dedicated to improving people’s lives in a tangible way. Have a look at the stories at the end of this blog. I have colleagues doing this important work in other local organisations too. For instance our libraries regularly host the Surrey CC digital support team.
So much of our lives is now online that this service is increasingly vital to help ensure no one is left behind. If you know of anyone who needs help getting access online, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can also find out more about the role of Digital Support Adviser in the ‘Volunteer Role Focus’.