PEOPLE in receipt of benefit in Blandford and Sturminster Newton are being surveyed by North Dorset District Council to establish how they will be affected by the introduction of Universal Credit.
A rolling programme of changes will start in April next year with reductions in housing benefit and transfer of its administration to the Department of Work and Pensions, and the replacement of council tax benefit by a less generous scheme operated locally.
The local authority has been chosen by central government as a pilot for the new support system introduced in the Welfare Reform Act.
Its role is to advise government on how it will operate on the ground, and how people will be affected.
General manager Joyce Guest said: "We are one of 12 pilot areas across the country, and one of very few in the south. We are working in partnership with the Job Clubs, Credit Unions and housing associations, and the pilot schemes will be reporting back to central government, and helping to write the rules for the new system.
"We have been allocated funding to carry out the research by employing a number of staff from Signpost/Spectrum and the Citizens Advice Bureau to canvas people in their homes."
"We have selected three specific areas on which to focus, including the Old Town ward in Blandford, which is the most deprived area in North Dorset, as well as two more rural wards, Stour Valley surrounding Sturminster Newton and Lydden Vale, surrounding Hazelbury Bryan, where particular issues are transport and internet access.
"Letters went out to them last week to advise people, some of whom have never paid council tax or rent and don't really know what it is."
She said those living in under-occupied properties might need to consider taking in lodgers, and people under 35 will no longer receive a lodging allowance instead of housing benefit.
"We are still gathering information on how many people will be affected by the benefit capping, but the changes are targeting working age people and aimed at getting people back to work and making work pay. The elderly and disabled will be protected."
The government is seeking to streamline benefit claims by asking individuals to make online applications, and the authority is working with a variety of agencies to establish ways of helping them to do so, as well as to face other issues arising from reductions in benefits and encouragement to those of working age to get back into employment.