Advisors at a housing trust who’ve helped residents secure more than £500,000 in unclaimed benefits have hit back at the negative ‘stereotype’ of people on welfare.
The Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust employs two welfare services advisors, Roger King and Dee Hemchi, who see up to eight residents a day and are booked weeks in advance.
Dee said: “I love my job. I’ve been asked if I get angry at people living off benefits, but I just laugh and say do not believe the stereotype.
“In this role, I’ve met some of the bravest, most resilient people who despite their problems are raising their families and making the best of their lives, and it’s been a privilege to help them.
“That’s where the real story lies, in the people who never give up, no matter what life throws at them.”
The trust says there are around £12.3billion of benefits unclaimed nationally, with Dee and Roger identifying more than £500,000 in unclaimed benefits this financial year alone.
Dee said: “Our aim is to help trust residents sustain their tenancies.
“Often we get referrals from the rents team where there is a build-up of arrears but other trust employees signpost people in need of help that they come across, or residents can request a visit themselves.
“People are worried and don’t know where to turn – it’s our job to help.
“We don’t just advise people to claim more benefits, and it’s certainly not the lifestyle choice that the media would have us believe.
“We cast a fresh pair of eyes over people’s household income and expenditure, and there are lots of ways we can help people save unnecessary outgoings, like switching energy supplier or requesting a water meter.
“We don’t judge on what they should or shouldn’t have – a broadband subscription can be a lifeline to someone with care responsibilities, for example – but we educate people to help them prioritise.
“We should be on commission for the budget supermarkets too! We really promote ‘savvy shopping’ – it’s amazing how much you can save.
Roger said a ‘great deal’ of their visits involved children living in poverty.
“It’s something of a hidden problem. Most people in the Vale are not aware of the extent of child poverty here – unless they are living with it.
“Then, it’s only too real.”
They also help older people who may be put off claiming by the pile of forms they have to fill in.
Roger said: “About 30% of older people particularly are not claiming even if they struggle.
“They either lack information or they are too proud and stoic to claim. Or if the stigma of claiming benefits doesn’t put people off, then the complex and lengthy claim forms do.”
He added: “People dig a hole, usually through no fault of their own.
“You take out finance when you are working, but you can’t rescind it if you suddenly get made redundant.
“Often by trying to get out of the hole, it simply gets made bigger.”
He works closely with Swan Credit Union to give people access to affordable finance and an alternative to the controversial pay-day loan.
The pair also encourage people to open bank accounts to help manage their money.
“This is getting more important,” said Roger.
“When Universal Credit finally arrives, claimants will need an account. Collecting your benefits from a human being will be a thing of the past.”