An important but complex subject as Helen, CEO of Carers in Bedfordshire explained that “regardless of your situation, finances are always a central concern to all carers.” Helen recognised that the subject is often a thorny issue but the aim was to deal with it in a constructive way which can lead to realistic actions that can be taken across the county.
There were 13 carers in attendance. They were joined by 15 professionals who represented Carers in Bedfordshire, Advice Central, Age UK Bedfordshire, Aldwyck Housing, Central Bedfordshire Council, Citizens Advice West Mid Beds, Community Catalysts, Department of Works & Pension, Macmillan Cancer Support, Respite at Home and Social Services. It was interesting to note that a good number of professionals were also carers.
Advice Central – Usha Bance
Usha Bance introduced Advice Central based at the Disability Resource Centre in Dunstable. The service is funded by Central Bedfordshire Council. It offers face-to-face support as well as on the phone or over the internet. Advice Central covers a wide range of services including help to complete benefit forms (Personal Independence Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance) and Blue Badge. Usha explained that there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all benefits claim and each person’s situation is very different but they would use gov.uk to check eligibility criteria as well as Turn2Us.
Macmillan Welfare Rights Service – Samantha Conder
Macmillan has advisors working at the Luton & Dunstable Hospital, The Primrose Unit at Bedford Hospital, Hinchingbrooke Hospital and Peterborough Hospital. People are usually referred when they get a diagnosis but they can self-refer as it is best that they start looking at their finances as soon as possible to help maximise their income. They can provide a full benefits check, help with filling out the forms (including Blue Badges) as well as help to prepare for a tribunal and other financial support.
Age UK Bedfordshire – Hilary Tuohy
Hilary explained that Age UK Bedfordshire specialises in supporting people aged 50+ who were making a claim. She stated that £3.5 billion state benefits went unclaimed and encouraged people to see if they were entitled to any benefits. Money worries can have a serious impact on people’s mental wellbeing and receiving the right benefits can help improve someone’s quality of life. Age UK have a benefits calculator which is free and confidential and available to all on-line.
Citizens Advice West Mid Beds – Jenny Hedges
The Citizens Advice in West Mid Beds, Leighton-Linslade and Dunstable are open to all. They provide a wide range of support dealing with applying for benefits, Money Advice for debt issues, Pension Wise service, a Consumer Service, and Witness Service. They will refer to other services if they feel that they can support them better, for example, Macmillan Welfare Rights. They are running an evening service in Lidlington from 6.30pm to 8pm. For those needing help to make a claim online there is a web chat service on Mondays from 9am to 1pm.
Department of Work & Pensions – James Garlo
James is new in post and briefly explained that his role was to ensure that people were claiming the benefits that they were entitled to.
Q: Why does Central Bedfordshire Council no longer fund support at tribunals?
A: The organisations present explained that funding had been cut. Even if they could attend there is a limited amount they could actually do as a representative is not allowed to speak on your behalf.
Currently, people who are reapplying for Personal Independence Payments are being given zero points despite have a long-term condition or disability.
All the organisations would strongly recommend that you do go to tribunal as there is currently a 76% success rate. They advise not be too overwhelmed by the tribunal panel as it is independent and they are only asking questions to understand your situation more.
You must do this within one month of your decline letter being sent. Contact one of the organisations providing benefits advice for support.
Q: Is Age UK Bedfordshire holding Energy Clinics?
A: There are currently no Energy Clinics in Bedfordshire. But Age UK can help with any problems with energy suppliers and people who are in debt to their provider. Age UK recommends that you use an energy comparison site. Citizens Advice and Macmillan will also help with identifying a cheaper provider.
Q: What is the waiting time for services?
A: Macmillan – there are currently 50 people on the waiting list but they can usually be seen within 2 to 3 weeks.
- Citizens Advice – we aim to contact you in 5 days. A home visits is usually in 2 to 3 weeks, but if there is a deadline they will take this into consideration.
- Age UK Bedfordshire – a week or longer depending on capacity.
- Department of Work & Pension – a home visit is usually between 10 to 12 days.
The organisations recommend that it is important that you contact one of the services as soon as possible so you don’t find yourself struggling later on.
Q: How many people don’t attend a tribunal?
A: There are no official figures; the numbers are probably high as people find the idea of going to tribunal very stressful but don’t be put off by this as 76% of claims referred to tribunal usually get their payments.
Carers and people claiming benefits should persist with the process.
Q: What happens if the carer cannot leave home due to the cared for’s challenging behaviour or not being able to leave the house?
A: There are some organisations that do home visits (see question below).
One possibility is to have a Carers Assessment and a Needs Assessment, so a social worker can do a financial assessment that will look at respite care and other services to allow Carers to get out more.
Another possibility is to have a Corporate Appointee appointed for the young adult. They then become responsible for their financial needs and will apply for benefits on their behalf.
Q: How do people access a home visit?
A: There has been a significant cut in funding and therefore the number of home visits that can be done has been reduced but there are still some organisations doing home visits:
If you cannot get to an office due to transport issues, then you could ask the Good Neighbour Scheme for help or for someone to stay with the person you care for.
You can also access services over the phone
Citizens Advice West Mid Beds
For Carers, the following actions were proposed:
- An in-depth session exploring finances, benefits and eligibility.
- Advice Central should be more widely advertised.
- Encourage carers not to give up especially at the tribunal stage.
- One-to-one support to fill out forms and attend tribunals is needed.
- Access to home visits if needed.
- Raise awareness about Continuing Health Care.
- Collect information about benefits which are not means tested.
Professionals would like:
- Information about the Corporate Appointees scheme.
- To investigate the use of McKenzie Friend, Good Neighbour Scheme or another volunteer to support people at tribunal.
- To increase awareness about benefits and the support that is available– “People don’t know what they don’t know.”
- More events where professionals can share information with each other and carers.
- All groups offering advice gave a lot of helpful information. Well worth attending.
- Feel more knowledgeable about the help out there and where to find it.
- Very interesting. Learnt a lot more. Wished I knew about this while caring for my mum.
- Excellent meeting with so much information on services to help carers access financial help.
- Excellent opportunity to understand the issues faced by carers and cared for in relation to money/finance/benefits.
- Listened and learnt. Enjoyed the experience of sitting with and hearing from carers.