Mr. Bishop’s story highlights importance of ‘Your Money, Your Home’ work

The Wales Co-operative Centre is currently running its fourth annual Tackling Poverty Fortnight campaign.

The campaign is demonstrating a number of ways in which the Centre is helping to reduce poverty through the projects it runs, the businesses and organisations it supports and the people who are the end beneficiaries of that support.

Today we look at one example of the work that has been supported by ‘Your Money, Your Home’, a Wales Co-operative Centre project which provides advice and guidance to Private Rented Sector tenants in Wales, and prepares people for the introduction of Universal Credit. One of them was Mr. Bishop, a 44 year old man living in a private rented house in Blaina.

His landlord contacted us after attending a Blaenau Gwent Landlord Forum, co-hosted by the Wales Co-operative Centre. He was concerned that his tenant may find it difficult to manage his money once Universal Credit comes in. Following an initial telephone conversation we found that Mr Bishop was unaware of Universal Credit, and was concerned about having to budget when all of the benefit, including the rent, was paid to him in a lump sum every month. He currently receives his benefits fortnightly, with his rent paid directly to the landlord, apart from a fortnightly top up which he paid in cash.

We visited Mr Bishop to explain the changes to him and to find out what support would be beneficial to him. We quickly realised that he needed more than budgeting advice: after all of his outgoings including rent top up, deductions being taken for previous budgeting loans and fines, paying for gas and electricity he was left with a very small amount to buy food. He didn’t have a fridge, freezer, oven or washing machine. He had had a stroke two years previously which had left him with pain and weakness on one side, mobility difficulties and also affected his memory and ability to process information.

We began by looking at the benefits he was in receipt of and supported him to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment for assistance with his rent top up, which he was awarded, securing his tenancy until March 2016. We supported him to begin the process of applying for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to help him manage his health problems, arranging and attending an appointment with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to help prompt him with the information that he had forgotten, and to make sure he understood the process. We also supported him to complete an application for the Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF) so that he may buy some white goods.

Mr Bishop had some debts which he couldn’t afford to pay off; we assisted him to arrange and attend an appointment with the CAB to address them. We wrote a letter to ask for one of his deductions to be reduced due to his financial circumstances.

Mr Bishop told us that he had always kept himself to himself, never talking about his problems to anyone and therefore never having any help. Since ‘Your Money, Your Home’ had offered him support he found that he was more able to let people in, and be open to future support. He found it useful to find out what support was available and how to access it. He gave us permission to apply for a support worker for him to work with him over a longer term.

We arranged a hand over with the new support worker to ensure his engagement and that she had all the information regarding the on-going applications, including DAF and PIP plus the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessment he was awaiting.

In order to follow up the work done with Mr Bishop I attempted contact via mobile phone with no success; fearing a breakdown in his tenancy I decided to visit. Mr Bishop was still at the house and was successfully maintaining his tenancy. He had engaged with the support worker for a few months until all on-going applications had been resolved. Following the application for PIP, Mr Bishop was granted the money to which he was entitled and this is enough to cover his rent top up and allows him to buy food regularly and generally be more comfortable. He now had all of the white goods he needed and the house was adequately furnished. He said that he is very glad to be settled now and he has a carer who helps him with daily tasks.

He had some questions about his benefits and whether he should be in receipt of ESA rather than Jobseeker’s Allowance because of his disabilities and so he was referred again to the CAB, and his carer is accompanying him.

Sarah Burgess, one of YMYH’s project officers, said “People can become entrenched in cycles of financially destructive behaviour, driven by emotional distress. Having someone to cast a light on these cycles and prompt them to address their distress can help them to choose more constructive behaviour in the future”.

Jocelle Lovell, YMYH Project Manager points out, “Understanding the benefits system and your entitlement can be a challenge at the best of times.  But if you are somebody who lacks confidence, suffers memory loss and has difficulty communicating, it can become very overwhelming, and often results in people not trying or giving up.

Face to face support is more costly and time consuming than other interventions, but building trust and rapport with the tenant is an essential part of the job. You can only really start to help someone if you understand them and their circumstances. Empathy and resilience are key.

Often vulnerable tenants are not aware of the variety of support services available to them, and this is one of the areas where YMYH has been able to help.  Our project officers have a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to unpicking complex situations and knowing what services are available locally, and how to engage with them”.

You can follow the Tackling Poverty Fortnight on Twitter @WalesCoopCentre and through the hashtag #PovertyInWales.

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