“All of my money was stopped,” explains full-time mum Louise. “When my ex-husband moved out, I didn’t realise that would affect anything but after six weeks of not receiving any money I got in touch with HMRC and found out that I was actually entitled to a lot more than I was supposed to be getting.
“I didn’t realise this - it’s just one of those things that I’d never looked into. When I tried to sort it out, I got in touch with the department that sorts Child Tax Credits and they told me to do it online, but I had no idea where to start.
“There’s so much information on the website and it can be overwhelming, even for someone like me - I’m not computer illiterate and I have a mobile phone and a computer, but there’s just so much on there. It’s very confusing.”
Louise was told about ‘Work IT Out’, a programme funded by HMRC and run by Good Things Foundation through the UK-wide Online Centres Network, to help people use HMRC’s digital services confidently and more easily.
Louise explains: “The lady told me to call Karen at Citizens Advice Darlington and said that she’d be able to help me out. I got in touch with her and we arranged a lesson which would take place over the phone. She also sent me a load of resources that I could look at online.”
The remote style of learning was ideal for Louise - being a busy mum meant she didn’t have a lot of time to go along to the centre.
“I have three children but don’t have any childcare,” explains Louise. “My youngest - she isn't even four yet - goes to nursery some days but she’s with me pretty much all the time, so it was ideal to be able to chat to Karen over the phone.
“I thought I’d struggle to learn without someone with me so I could watch what they’re doing, but being talked through it over the phone while I was looking at the screen, I managed not to get lost!”
Even after just one lesson with Karen, Louise feels happier and more confident using HMRC’s online services.
She says: “Thanks to Karen and the ‘Work IT Out’ programme I now understand more about which benefits I’m entitled to, how to log on and apply for them, how to manage my money and how to check when I’ve got payments coming in.
“Now, I understand it more, it means I’m more comfortable with it. It’s nice to have spoken to someone that makes me feel like I can do things myself and that I don’t need to worry. It definitely makes me feel a bit less stressed.”
Louise’s new skills are having a real impact on family life as well. Louise explains: “It really helped me when I was taking my girls on holiday. I was able to check online to see when my money was going to come in. It was just a few days before we were going, so that really helped with my forward planning and it was nice to know that I didn’t have to worry about money during the trip.
“I would definitely recommend that other people who are struggling, haven’t claimed benefits before or don’t know what they’re entitled to, get in touch with their local Online Centre and get help to give it a go. I can honestly say that without Karen’s help I wouldn’t be using any of HMRC’s online services.”