We encourage people to do it (using peer support in welfare benefits) so they can grow in self-confidence and soft skills; and so maintain their health and well-being (even when faced with periods of chaos)
Since 2012, Hear Us has run a holistic support project which addresses urgent financial poverty and its underlying causes. Between July 2017- June 2018 we helped 400 people complete their benefits forms; attended 100s of assessments and home visits in a volunteer capacity; supported service users to tackle their housing, council tax and utility debts; and helped more than 70 vulnerable people to win their appeal tribunals.
Our approach is based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing: Connect with people, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Giving. Two more examples of what we have helped our service users achieve: support them to open bank accounts which is time consuming but essential as DWP will only accept online applications / payments; preventing over 50 evictions by helping vulnerable clients gain discretionary housing support to enable them to cover their rent costs for a period of months.
Between July 2017 and June 2018 clients made over 1000 visits to our office during which we provided 2515 support hours. Helping clients to gain full financial entitlement will mean improved income, health and well-being c.f. from a one-year pilot we expect 75% of service users to be at least 40% better off within 2-6 months. It will also reduce GP visits as their mental health improves as a consequence (less stress).
We provide peer support to people with severe and enduring mental health conditions in poverty by helping them to access food banks, grants, and benefits.
Our surgeries have helped 1000s of vulnerable people maintain their income through appropriate, relevant support. From April 2018 to March 2019 we have helped 335 people with 1063 benefits related issues; won 106 ESA and PIP tribunals; and more. All this work led to more than £658,691 being secured for service users. We achieve this work in partnership – we work very closely with Mind’s Welfare Benefits Service, South West London Law Centre, Citizens Advice, and relate well with DWP and the Council.
Hear Us maintains 100% success rate at Tribunal. The introduction of Universal Credit (UC) is proving the greatest challenge to date as the vast majority of people we help do not have the skills, mental capacity or stability to apply or maintain online claims.
After initially meeting with a client we find out about their benefit situation and the issues with which they need support, we help our clients to resolve these issues and also maximise their income by helping them to apply for and manage benefits they are entitled to but not already claiming.
Our role is to support and advise, the claims belong to our clients and we give them the information they need to make decisions rather than make decisions for them. Any action we take, we do so with our clients knowledge and consent and we inform them of any knowledge we may gain on their behalf, e.g. from phone calls to the DWP.
The DWP will write to claimants directly rather than going through us and it is generally our clients who inform us of any decisions the DWP have made. We ask our clients to fill out feedback forms, and welcome any comments they have, about the service we provide.
What are the problems or issues that the project will address?
Most can do for themselves but some can’t: People lack confidence and some knowledge when dealing with claims for financial entitlement. Some people, with the right support and guidance, are able to claim and maintain their own benefit claims. We are able to provide this large group of people with the right training to do this for themselves. There is a smaller group with complex needs who will always need help.
Mental illness makes you poor: Mental illness is a significant contributory factor to poverty and poverty causes and exacerbates mental health conditions. Studies show 76% of people with mental health problems are dependent on sickness related benefits. Current welfare reform is heavily weighted against people with mental health problems. Stress caused by debt & poverty is hugely damaging and compounds existing illness. It is well documented that the new welfare reforms are discriminating against the disabled and are affecting people with mental health illnesses (most vulnerable in society). Existing services cannot provide intensive support needed to help someone navigate an increasingly complex system. Demand for our service heavily outweighs capacity. A study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2019 concluded that “claimants with a mental illness were 2.40 times more likely to have their existing DLA entitlement removed following a PIP eligibility assessment than claimants with musculoskeletal conditions, neurological conditions and diabetes” (Pybus et al, 2019, 1).
Hear Us currently supports 49 service users to manage their UC claims. The reason why we are applying now is the introduction of Universal Credit and its impact on the position of our vulnerable service users in Croydon. We anticipate that our intervention will ensure that many of the most vulnerable service users in the borough will require an extensive holistic service whilst Universal Credit is being implemented. Of those undertaking the DLA to PIP transfer, 22% of people being transferred are awarded less which is causing even greater poverty and leading to severe impacts on mental health. 24% of people have lost benefits altogether. But 60-75% of tribunals are successful. With the right support, we believe 80-85% of claims are self-manageable.
Greater risk of losing life: Two thirds of people on ESA have thought about taking their own life because of the welfare system so there is a need to provide the right kind of support to reduce the risk of self harm at least partly caused by the welfare system. People whose mental health is further compounded by drug and alcohol issues, as well as elderly service users and those with learning difficulties will not cope well.