64% of all families in Britain receive some kind of welfare benefit. For 9.6 million families, these benefits make up more than half of their income. Recent welfare reforms could result in a huge number of families facing financial crisis.
Universal Credit (a new single payment for people who are looking for work or on a low income) is being slowly introduced from October 2013 throughout the welfare system. The rollout of this new benefit will be completed by the end of 2017.
One main difference between Universal Credit and the current system is that claimants will receive just one monthly payment paid into a bank account, just like a monthly salary. But for those used to being paid weekly or fortnightly the impact on their household budgeting could be catastrophic.
Jacqui Scott, a specialist debt adviser with Ridley & Hall solicitors in Huddersfield has some suggestions:
“To cut costs if you have school age children, it’s worth checking to see if your local school provides breakfast clubs or after school clubs – www.gov.uk/childcare-out-of-school-hours. Do not forget that free school clothing is available at the discretion of local education authority; you can apply to your local council. Free school transport may be available in certain circumstances from the council and healthy start food vouchers and vitamins for expectant and new mothers of children up to 4 years old on low income: www.healthystart.nhs.uk.”
Her advice for others facing difficult times financially is to get good advice from the right people:
“It is tempting to take out loans and to buy on credit..but that can just make a bad situation worse. I offer free initial advice on debt at the Crossroads Centre in Meltham on a Wednesday morning. My colleague Sangeeta Enright offers free welfare benefits advice there on a Tuesday morning. There are many other good sources of advice for local people including the Citizens Advice Bureau.”
Jacqui is passionate about helping people to get the help that they are entitled to:
“There is help out there, but it can be difficult to know where to go and who to ask. My role is to help people to manage their debts, in part by explaining the ways that they can reduce their outgoings.”
Some of the options that are available are:
Council Tax benefit has been abolished and replaced with localised Council Tax reduction schemes from April 2013. The rules are different in England and Wales. Help is no longer available for Council Tax from discretionary housing payments. Jacqui’s advice is to spread payments over 12 months rather than the standard 10 months.
Community Care grants and Crisis loans were abolished in April 2013. Advances of benefit maybe available from the DWP if you are waiting for benefit to be paid and are in financial need.
Food banks sometimes provide more than a short term option and may provide other kinds of support:
The Welcome Centre
Huddersfield Methodist Mission
3-13 Lord Street
Tel: 01484 340034
Monday to Friday, 1pm – 4pm.
Energy and Energy Saving
You may be able to save money by changing the way that you are billed for energy and by adding energy saving measures.
Free independent advice on saving energy and the possibility of grants is available in certain circumstances to help with insulation, draught proofing, central heating and other energy measures:
Jacqui says: “I suggest that people should make sure a direct debit or payment scheme has not been set too high. Check to see if you are due any rebate on payments.”
There are many local charities that help with recycled furniture and white goods.
Check eligibility for help with water costs. Water Sure is a service available to customers on certain benefits with a high essential use of water, which can cap bills. If you are on a water meter go to www.ofwat.gov.uk.
If you are not on a water meter, use the water meter calculator on the CC Water website to see if you can save money by going on a water meter – www.ccwater.org.uk
If you are on a low income and have debts you can apply for assistance: www.ywct.org.uk
When Someone Dies
Charities or benevolent funds may be able to offer financial help when someone dies. The benevolent trust fund and bereavement payment may be available; www.gov.uk/bereavement-payment. Also check your entitlement to a funeral expenses payment; www.gov.uk/funeral-payments.
British Gas can help if outstanding funeral expenses are causing hardship; www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk/help/grants-for-individuals-help-pages/how-can-the-trust-help
Compare fuel prices at www.petrolprices.com
These are difficult times for families, especially those living in poverty. There is help and advice available but Jacqui Scott is deeply concerned:
“As the effects of the introduction of Universal Credit start to be felt, there are going to be many families in our area that will be very severely affected. Since legal aid has been withdrawn from welfare benefits and debt advice, the system relies on the charitable sector. And it’s struggling to keep up already with the demand for advice.”
For more information on welfare benefits, please contact Ridley & Hall on 01484 538421 or by e-mail and ask to speak to Jacqui Scott or Sangeeta Enright.