Using the post to access benefits
Postal services continue to play an essential role in the benefits system. From sending and receiving application forms, to updating the Department of Work and Pensions about a change in working status, or receiving an invitation to attend a health assessment - many of the essential interactions between the Government and claimants are still conducted through the post.
Some of these communications will move online with the roll-out of Universal Credit, but most will be unaffected. It is vital, therefore, that postal services are affordable, accessible and meeting the needs of benefits claimants.
Citizens Advice is uniquely placed to explore this issue. We have unrivalled insight into the benefits system and we are the statutory consumer advocate in the postal market.
We carried out a thorough review of evidence from across our network on this issue. This included an analysis of 48 evidence forms - detailed descriptions accounts of complex cases submitted by local Citizens Advice - interviews with 4 frontline advisers and a survey of 216 advisers from across the Citizens Advice service. Finally, to better understand the experience of benefit claimants themselves, we carried out a telephone survey of 1,000 people who had sent or received at least 1 item related to the benefits claim in the past 2 years.
Based on our findings, we conclude there are 2 areas that warrant further investigation to improve the experience of people communicating with the government through the post about benefits:
Further work to understand any barriers to take up of Freepost and determine whether any interventions - such as enhanced messaging in government communications, or other efforts to improve consumer awareness - would lead to greater use of the free service.
Engagement with government departments to identify where improvements could be made to the procedures for sending and receiving correspondence. These measures should reduce the risk of items being lost or delayed, and address problems with the receipt of premium mail.