Presentation by Louis Walton, Corporate Management Trainee.
The Customer Services Director, R Pavey gave a presentation to the Select Committee regarding Citizens Online, Epping Forest Switch Project.
Citizens Online – Digital Inclusion was a registered charity established in 2000 and had worked with over 50 communities around the UK. Since 2015, Citizens Online had been involved in the One Digital programme to improve basic digital skills across the UK. The One Digital programme was delivered by a partnership comprising of Age UK, Clarion Housing Group, SCVO and Digital Unite.
With budgets being cut savings must be made to deliver high quality services. Enabling residents to access services online delivers savings and also customer satisfaction. There were a significant percentage of the population that lacked digital skills. It was imperative that they weren’t left behind and that the Council supported those who were able to develop better digital skills. Therefore, the more people accessing online services allowed more time to support those who would always need support.
Data from the 2018 Labour Force Survey conducted by ONS about Internet Users was not collected at the granular enough level to provide an estimate for Epping Forest, but suggested that across the Essex County Council area there are around 133,000 people who had never used the internet or last used it over three months ago.
Approximately 34,000 people in the West Essex area (Epping Forest and Uttlesford) were expected to be in this group. The 2011 Census recorded 124,659 people as usual residents of Epping Forest and 79,443 of Uttlesford. Assuming the proportion who were not recent internet users was equivalent, this would equate to around 13,000 adults in Uttlesford and 21,000 adults who had not used the internet recently or ever in Epping Forest.
It was estimated that around 1,000 Housing Benefit claims are made from people with low or no digital capabilities these mainly live in Waltham Abbey and Loughton. This was a significant number and ultimately all Housing Benefit claimants will be required to switch to the digital-by-default Universal Credit system. Working with Citizens Advice in other areas a claim for a single person took an average of 1 hour to complete and 1 hour 15 minutes for a couple. Once the claim was completed the claimants required continued support to complete online jobseeking diaries.
How could the Council help towards a solution:
(a) Evidence – Target resources effectively to help towards age, disability and low income.
(b) Partnership – The problem was too great for any single organisation to tackle alone. Those claimants that did not have the facility to go online were the most difficult to reach and an hour in the library would not be enough support. The Council were engaging with local organisations to form a partnership to help and support claimants in this district.
(c) Digital Champions – These were people with the time and confidence to help others with digital skills. The network would have a mix of embedded Digital Champions, some of which are working at EFDC as well as volunteers.
(d) Digital Leadership – With digital transformation, digital inclusion must sit at the heart, there was no point in having brilliant online services if people could not use them. Many organisations need support to embrace new ways of working that were more efficient and better for staff morale and development. Digital Leadership workshops would be run to increase knowledge in digital leadership principles.
· Form a local Digital Inclusion Network;
· Launch a Digital Champions programme;
· Create a pan Epping Forest Signposting and Triage system;
· Centralise all Digital Inclusion information;
A report would come to the next meeting with a plan on how the Council would tackle the above recommendations.
G Wallis stated that this was a huge priority for everyone involved and the Council should be proactive in reaching out to the people in the community.