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Service helps tenants claim £250k in benefits

A money advice service provided by a South Staffordshire housing association has helped tenants claim nearly £250,000 in benefits over the last six months.

The news comes as national figures show unemployment is at a 17-year high and £5.4bn of benefits go unclaimed by pensioners in the UK each year. The figure rises to £19bn when it comes to income-related benefits and tax credits.

South Staffordshire Housing Association (SSHA) is offering a free financial support service to its tenants to make sure they are receiving the benefits they are entitled to through one-to-one appointments, home visits and ongoing support, and can also represent tenants in appeals and disputes.

Between April 2011 and September 2011, the service provided benefits advice and casework to 183 people and helped claim a total of £246,630 in benefits on their behalf.

As well as helping tenants claim benefits, the service also covers budgeting and access to trust fund loans such as those from Severn Trent Water. The team also refers tenants to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau for debt advice and to Healthnet for support needs and Social Services.

Jan Goode, director of customer services at SSHA, said: “The take-up of this service demonstrates the need for residents to get the right advice and support. This is particularly the case for those on lower incomes, who are the most financially excluded.

“With rising unemployment, increasing energy bills and living costs, benefits provide a lifeline and can relieve the pressures of continued money worries. This can restrict people from playing a full role in society, for example getting into work or training or giving their children the security they crave.

“We are delighted that our own advice service has helped so many tenants over six months and know from feedback that this is making an impact on improving welfare and quality of life. We are committed to continuing this service and providing other opportunities to break down the barriers leading to debt.”

One couple, who asked to remain anonymous, benefitted from SSHA’s support when they found themselves in rent arrears as well as owing council tax, gas and electric payments.

SSHA income team leader Samantha Allcott explained: “The couple were struggling to make ends meet and were desperate to keep their home.

“After one of our officers visited the home and spoke to the couple they were able to face up to the problems they were having.”

The wife was unable to work after an accident, her statutory sick pay had run out and she had no other income. She was having issues in returning to work but could not get a sick note, and if she resigned she wouldn’t be able to claim Job Seekers’ Allowance.

Samantha added: “After we chatted to the couple they started to address their issues and tackled them. We supported the wife to liaise with her GP and employer to organise her return to work, as well as organising Housing Benefits to be paid to them and to increase their Working Tax Credits.”

The resident said: “We cannot explain what a help South Staffordshire Housing Association has been to us. The team has been wonderful.”

Any SSHA tenants interested in getting money advice can contact the housing association on 01785 312000 and ask for the income management team.