An initiative that has helped hundreds of Knowsley residents claim more than half a million pounds of benefits they didn’t know they were entitled to will be renewed.
Since 2007 Knowsley Housing Trust (KHT) and Knowsley Council have jointly funded a welfare benefits service to assess if tenants are claiming all the support they should be.
The partnership has provided two full time officers from the council’s benefits team to work within KHT’s rents team, and funding has now been secured for this to continue until March 2012.
It has also saved £1.7m in costs through preventing evictions against tenants not paying their rent.
Steve Heverin, Operational Director of Investment, said: “When tenants find themselves in financial trouble it can be hard to reach out to them, as they can be reluctant to ask for help or engage with the authorities.
“Our benefit advisors have helped to build up trust between tenants and KHT’s rents and financial inclusion teams, which is a major step forward.
“They are genuinely improving lives across Knowsley and helping some of KHT’s most vulnerable tenants.”
The benefit advisors offer free home visits to carry out benefit health checks, helping to ensure tenants are claiming all the benefits they are entitled to.
They help with the completion of housing benefit and council tax benefit claim forms and help people claim backdated benefits and other benefits they might be entitled to, such as Disability Living Allowance and Pension Credits.
“We also have strong partnerships with local organisations and can put people in touch with them for extra help or support.
“We have a good presence in communities and more people are coming forward for help. That first contact can make a real difference.”
Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and IT, Cllr Norman Keats, said: “The council is committed to helping residents receive the best advice and support and our partnership with KHT has helped hundreds of people receive benefits they didn’t know they were entitled to.
“In the current financial climate and with the full impact of the Government’s cuts and reforms starting to bite, it is more important than ever that we support our residents as much as we can.”
A tenant was in arrears with his rent and council tax and was facing eviction before the benefit advice team stepped in.
He was reluctant to accept help and refused to open the door to the advisors on many occasions, but eventually allowed them to help him fill in a housing benefit and council tax benefit form.
It emerged that he had trouble managing his affairs because of a head injury received nine years earlier at work and he had not completed a housing benefit form in 2007, which meant his rent was not being paid and other debts began to mount up. He had resigned himself to being evicted and living on the streets.
The benefit advisor also helped him to complete a DHP (Discretionary Housing Payment) and disability living allowance form and helped to suspend the eviction.
With their help his rent arrears were cleared and he was put in touch with a support worker from social services.
His eviction has now been quashed and he has received help to clear up his flat and purchase some white goods and a decent carpet.
In another case, a tenant had moved into her first home with KHT with her newborn baby. Sadly her baby was very ill and died the day after she moved in.
This was a horrendous time for her. She now had a funeral to pay for and she wasn’t entitled to any help towards costs.
She was only receiving statutory maternity pay from her employer and due to all premiums stopping on the death of her child, her housing benefit and council tax benefit entitlement ceased. She was left in debt which was distressing her further.
She was helped to complete a DHP and housing benefit form and was referred for ongoing support.
The tenant started to address her debts and was much happier coping financially.