Grocery charity Caravan has introduced a live chat service to its website offering users an alternative to its existing telephone service.

The charity, which helps industry workers who have fallen on hard times, has added the service to the welfare helpline section of its website.

Available from 12 noon to 2pm and 6pm to 8pm Monday to Friday, the feature enables users to interact online with a member of the support team ­before being guided to the most appropriate services.

The helpline, also available via telephone, covers areas including family, children and relationships; post-incident, career and financial support; health, mental health and legal issues; and people skills. With the new service, users are able to type in questions and receive answers in real time.

Cathy Mercer, welfare director at Caravan, said the new facility "enables us to offer a comprehensive service to those in need".

Live Chat should be more efficient for time-starved users, who will be "offered guidance and directed to relevant fact sheets, based on their particular needs."

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents' Helpline ­recovered almost £33,000 from news wholesalers for its members in the first quarter. More than £16,000 was recovered in March, about £11,000 in February, and £5,500 in January, the NFRN said.

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