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Service helps tenants claim £500k in benefits

A money advice service provided by South Staffordshire Housing Association has helped tenants claim more than £500,000 in benefits over the last year.

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 April 2012, the service provided benefits advice and casework to 311 people and helped claim a total of £518,849 in benefits, including Housing Benefit and Attendance Allowance, which is for people with a disability, in need of care or aged 65 and over.

Nationally, up to £15bn of benefits goes unclaimed every year, including £5.5bn that older people are entitled to. This includes Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit and Pension Credit.

As major welfare reform is set to take place in the coming year, people claiming benefits may need even more support in understanding how the changes will affect them.

One couple to have been helped by SSHA is Elizabeth and Eric Holmes. Now in their late 70s, they had lived in their SSHA-owned property for 53 years and needed to downsize to be able to manage the property.

Thanks to advice from SSHA’s income management advisor Colin Spires they were advised to claim Attendance Allowance, as well as Housing Benefit, to help them afford to move into extra care scheme Cherry Tree Court in Essington.

“When Cherry Tree Court was built, I was not very well and our house and garden was getting too big for us - things were getting on top of us. We didn’t think we could afford to move into Cherry Tree Court but Colin came to see us and helped us to claim Attendance Allowance,” explained Elizabeth Holmes.

She added: “Colin was wonderful and has really helped us. We found that he put us at ease and that helped us to be open about our situation. It was very hard to move out of our home but now we have a lovely apartment and it’s easier for us as there are no stairs.”

Colin Spires said: “When I met Mr and Mrs Holmes I explained to them that they were just managing rather than living their lives as they should be.

“They both had severe health problems and after completing an Attendance Allowance form for the couple I was able to increase their weekly income and this meant that they could afford to move into Cherry Tree Court.”

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. 

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 the forthcoming welfare reform there might be more uncertainty amongst people and this coupled with rising unemployment, increasing energy bills and living costs, our service can provide a lifeline and can relieve the pressures of continued money worries.”

Any SSHA tenants interested in getting money advice can contact the housing association on 0800 096 8690 or 01785 312000 and ask for the income management team.

Mr and Mrs Holmes: Eric and Elizabeth Holmes