Tenants get online via pilot scheme

Tenants of a Northumberland social housing provider are now kitted out with computers and broadband access as part of a pilot project.

As reported in the Gazette in January, the innovative scheme is a collaboration between Northumberland County Council, housing associations, Northumberland College and the University of Durham, designed to look at the benefits of internet access for those in social housing.

One of the providers taking part is Four Housing Group, through its subsidiary Berwick Borough Housing, and the succesful applicants are now online.

Bernie Hogg, operations manager at Berwick Borough Housing, said: “The project hopes to analyse the benefits of being online, which include having access to information about our housing services, welfare payments and the NHS, as well as the ability to use online banking and pay bills online.

“This is particularly important given current welfare reforms such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and universal credit, which will place greater pressure on our customers to make benefit claims online, manage their finances and pay their rent on time.”

Durham University is currently working with the selected tenants to gather information on how they use their computers, which websites they visit and whether or not they feel that they are benefitting from being online.

The project will also include examining access to social media websites to see if this reduces any feelings of isolation.

In 2012, 33million adults accessed the internet every day, which equates to almost 60 per cent of the general population.

Currently, however, among those living in social housing the figure is significantly lower, with just 30 per cent of Berwick Borough Housing’s tenants online.

Moving forward, the information gained from the pilot scheme will be used to inform Four Housing Group how it can support tenants in gaining access to the Internet.

Ms Hogg said: “We are keen to get as many of our customers online as possible for their own benefit. Living in some parts of Northumberland, there are still challenges around the broadband infrastructure.”