Welfare update: potential of partnerships for second-tier advice
Our members and their beneficiaries have told us that claiming and maintaining benefit claims is problematic for people who have no home. Issues such as establishing eligibility for Housing Benefit under the supported accommodation rules, or challenging DWP decision on issues such habitual residence test decisions or ESA eligibility require a level of expert knowledge that some members won’t be able to afford to buy in.
This means that, whilst some members do employ benefit experts, many others don’t and are frustrated at not being able to do as much as they would like to support their clients. And, whilst there are second tier advice agencies, these are targeted at front line benefits advisers, rather than support workers. Given this, an option might be to establish a mutually beneficial partnership with your local advice agency, be that a local Citizens Advice or an independent advice agency. Whilst it might not be possible to ask to be treated as a preferred referral agency, reciprocal relationships are possible. But like those who provide homelessness services, very many advice agencies rely on local authority funding to operate. With local authority budgets evermore straitened, and demand for advice high, advice providers are operating in challenging circumstances.
Where reciprocal relationships are successfully established, the advice agencies would gain from member services preparing the client before referral. Preparation could take the form of setting out the pertinent chronology of the client’s issue and gathering evidence – be that medical evidence, any form of ID or any evidence of housing history. Providing this chronological information and evidence would prove a great help to the first point of contact at an advice service and so create a basis for further mutually beneficial engagement.
Other ways to initiate a relationship with your local advice service might include encouraging people who volunteer at your service to also volunteer at your local advice service. Where volunteers can do this, they immediately create a bridge between the two services and bring knowledge and expertise about each service to the other.
You might also ask whether your local advice service has the capacity to run a fortnightly half day drop-in advice session in your hostel or day centre. Your local advice centre might also be willing to deliver basic training on how to spot potential problems with clients’ benefits and how to effectively respond to the prospect of such a problem. On a more strategic level, you might want to establish a local homelessness forum – if there isn’t one in your area already – and invite your local advice services to join.
Ultimately, both Homeless Link members and local advice services are driven to achieve the same fundamental objective – to improve the lives of disadvantaged people. Closer sharing of knowledge and expertise can only build on those existing shared values and objectives.
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Sue Christoforou is a Policy Manager at Homeless Link.