It can be really hard to get welfare rights advice

At about 9am yesterday morning, I turned up at the Newham Citizens’ Advice Bureau to queue for a 10am-1pm Gateway drop-in session. The plan was to meet this young woman there and to hopefully get some direction from the CAB on her benefit deduction and rent arrears problems, and maybe a longer appointment later.

The problem was that even at 9am, the queue was already closed. I know I should have made my way there earlier. The woman at the desk told me that the CAB could only see eight people at the 10am-1pm drop-in yesterday and that those eight had already been chosen (appointments are allotted on a first come first serve basis). Some days, the CAB sees 12 people, but  yesterday, it was only eight. That was the end of that. The woman was pleasant and as helpful as she could be about things, but said that our only option was to come back at the same time next week (and make sure to queue earlier), or to try the Freemasons Road drop-in today (and queue early there, too).

Anyway. I realise that people already know it can be hard to get advice because of the demand, or because law centres have closed and so on. People talk about that a lot. They tell me they’re sent from one CAB to another. Jobcentre advisers at the Kilburn jobcentre were actually telling people to go to the local unemployed workers’ group for advice at one point, because that group was very good at sorting people’s problems out. It’s always worth pointing out how quickly the window can close otherwise, and that the demand means people in dire straits must be turned away without advice.

It’s possible that trouble accessing advice and support services excludes people from other support options, too. Here’s an example: last week, a helpful reader of this site sent me information about several funds that the young woman with rent arrears might apply to for help with her debts (that advice was much appreciated). It seems that applications to one of those funds can only be made by professional support workers, or the CAB, though. You see where I am going with this: you might struggle to get into the CAB, but you can’t access some of the help on offer unless you get into the CAB.

Jobcentres will sometimes try to use that sort of concept in a perverse way to actively deny people their rights: they’ll insist that JSA claimants can only be accompanied to appointments by “official” advisers, or supporters from recognised organisations (this is incorrect, as it happens. People can take a family member, or friend). One of the East London jobcentres recently tried that on with me and someone I was accompanying: staff there tried to take the line that only recognised support workers were really allowed. The security guards at that jobcentre were wrong to say that, but they absolutely wouldn’t let me in.

Anyway.  I suppose the point I’m making is that I spend a lot of time with people who are facing eviction and/or dealing with debt problems, jobcentre problems, sanction problems – the works. They really need advice from people who are expert in a range of fields: housing, benefit entitlements, debt relief and debt management, and legal aid rights and entitlements. People come to my site from time to time to say that they have tried the CAB and to ask if I can recommend anyone else who can help. Mostly, I have absolutely no idea what to suggest.

10 thoughts on “It can be really hard to get welfare rights advice

  1. I know a little about the system, but i am a research maniac.. I pass on as much information as i can.. I feel its my duty my job to help others avoid the traps that the dwp have laid for people.. Call it penance for once working at the dwp.. I have printed off the decision makers guide for some people and pointed out that by their own rules the dwp are making errors.. I fight, because I know how it is to be lost in the system.. i wish i could do more but my own health isnt the best, (beating the dwp and stopping this unfair evil system has become my goal, no matter what.. keeps me going)

    • I wish that I can help more, and well done yourself for doing what you do. I’ve helped people access money from charities and things like that, and directly helped, but that was when I was also able to get out a bit, when you can get to hear about anyone who may be in a fix, and now I hardly leave the house.

      I haven’t much spare money with being disabled myself, but I’d like to be able to directly help people cash wise, but then you can open yourself up to all sorts of trouble if you advertise that personally. I could only do it every now and again Kate, and it wouldn’t be a great amount of money, but by all means, do let me know if this could be arranged for someone; I’m sure that even 30 quid could be a help for example. At least this way you definitely know that someone would receive the help directly and it wouldn’t have deductions for overheads like charities do.

      Anyway, by all means, do contact me Kate. It such a shame that people can’t even get advice. The government have it all sown up!

      • I help out by passing out information, and i do say look when you have sorted your problems help someone else… a sort of helping pyramid scheme sometimes information is whats really needed, its hard to find the data out there its hidden I can find it.. i post on forums, i have even been interviewed by the bbc radio about things and some newspapers

  2. Well done, Kate, Jayne and Eric for going to people’s assistance.

    I discovered something like nine years ago of the overload on Kentish Town CAB when I was volunteering independently at an Age Concern day centre near Kings Cross. The 214 bus from my home passed the CAB that was then situated on Kentish Town Road, and people were already forming a longish queue shortly after 8am!

    But I was told later by referral from locally based mental health charity to Disability in Camden’s advocate, when I was 0-pointed in my ESA claim in 2009 that Camden CAB had opted out of advising on ESA matters because ESA was so complicated and the appeals process so stressful, and so Disability in Camden was specialising in that instead and gaining real expertise. DISC’s advocate helped get me into the ESA Support Group in late 2009; but DISC has since gone bust.

    And I am sure that the much more recent cuts-in-Camden’s-local-services-induced relocation of Camden CAB to sharing the Camden Community Law Centre building in Prince of Wales Road (with much less traffic than the A road that Kentish Town Road is) saves a lot of Kentish Town estate agents an awful lot of embarrassment, despite the fact that there is an estate agent at the junction of Kentish Town Road and Prince of Wales Road, as I recall.

    Meanwhile, the CAB on the LB Camden side of Kilburn High Road (another A road) has also closed down and potential service users redirected a few miles away to another CAB, while the main austerity-beneficiaries on that A road are now legal loan sharks and gambling shops.

    On the bright side, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is well-connected with other Information, Advice & Guidance organisations in Brent & Camden and beyond, sharing expertise with WinVisible, Kilburn Fair Credit Campaign, Brent Housing Action, Advice4Renters (for Private Rented Sector tenants in LB Brent) and others.

    (WinVisible has produced a commendable Benefits self-help rights sheet.)

    One of those other organisations is now Lift: Lifting Lives, Lifting People, an Harlesden (LB Brent) based charity focused on helping young single adults get out of debt and homelessness via the Private Rented Sector; and I have just returned from the penultimate session of a Wednesday afternoons training programme at Kilburn Salvation Army Hall, Chichester Road, NW6 5QW. This afternoon’s session was on the subject of ‘Money Management’ and was presented by Steve Allen of Hillingdon Credit Union Ltd with backup from John Kilvington onf Kilburn Fair Credit Campaign.

    In an excellent slide show, one of the ‘useful links’ given in was to the interactive website Turn2Us. “Turn2us is a national charity that helps people in financial hardship to gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and support services.” I hope this helps, and commend people to contact Lift for details of exactly what extra training to look forward to at next week’s ‘Thank You’ Party, (Wednesday 26 August) 2:30pm-4pm at Kilburn Salvation Army Hall, NW6 5QW. Contact Details for Lift

    Dude Swheatie of Kwug

    PS: Together we are not only stronger, but also more knowledgeable.

    • Some great advice there for people. Thanks for that as I was looking where I could perhaps donate a little money myself for those sorts of things.

      Yes, I tried and failed to help 2 people with their ESA/DLA applications. I was so ill that I couldn’t take in all of the help info myself. Luckily, the local borough still have a welfare rights adviser, so they obtained help there, but I heard that this person had gone onto maternity leave, and the council weren’t going to replace her meantime, so that’s it for professional advice around here.

      I’ve also noticed how many help lines are now not available, not just for benefit advice, but when you’re looking for advice about your illness, just to be able to talk to someone who understands. The British Heart Foundation’s helpline for that is currently not in service for example. It’s a tough time for all charities.

      Thanks again for the links, and I hope that all goes well for you.

  3. Great suggestions all and many thanks. The Dude is right – there are some excellent local groups that have developed over recent times and I think the strength of some of them is a real testimony to the expertise that has developed and also very much an indication of growing need. I’ve met a number of people and groups now who have set up in response to pressing need in their areas. There are the really complicated areas like filling in the monstrous forms that the DWP and others insist on, accompanying people to appointments and understanding their rights (what programmes are mandatory etc) and housing, which is an extremely complicated area. I find also now that a lot of people have issues which cross over into a number of different areas – so, benefits, housing and so on.

    It is important to make the point that advice can still be very hard to get and can be extremely hard to get in areas where there are fewer local groups. I also find from time to time that any input I personally make when I go along with someone is dismissed, at least in the first instance, because I’m not from any recognised organisation like the CAB. I’m asked constantly if I’m a support worker and when I say No, the balance can shift. We get into the “so who are you then?” thing. I think people are deciding whether or not they can dismiss you and even chuck you out. I’m not particularly looking to put the boot into the CAB here, but people often get shirty now if I suggest going there – they’ve already tried, they couldn’t get through or they didn’t get the support they were hoping for. People often want a lawyer too and they can’t find one. These things are major issues, especially when gatekeepers to services refuse to acknowledge anyone who doesn’t have an official badge. People are being denied their rights. They never even get to find out what their rights are in a lot of instances.

  4. Related to the literal sidelining of Information, Advice & Guidance (IAG) places by taking them off A roads where their queues and even existence would be evident to those who do not need them at the time, is the matter of what replaces them in the public consciousnes.

    Government ministers have spoken a lot about the pitfalls of out-of-waged-work benefit claimants getting addicted to daytime TV. Let’s examine what daytime TV shows. BBC daytime output is largely geared to home ownership while commercial daytime TV is largely sponsored by ambulance-chasing law companies and ‘quick fix’ legal loan sharks. Yet TV advertising is horrendously expensive and ‘prime time’ TV advertising slots away from daytime TV even more so.

    So let’s consider how much this factor has prejudiced the public consciousness at the expense of the public purse in general and the most vulnerable in society in particular. The DWP’s ‘Targeting Benefit Fraud’ ads have predominated over any ads pointing out to people in low paid employment etc their benefit entitlements, and so benefits unclaimed has been more of a phenomena than actual benefit fraud. And because people are generally not aware of local grant making IAG charities that could refer and commend them to local grant making trusts, A lot of local charity trust money, according to John Kilvington of Kilburn Fair Credit Campaign, many local charities have a surplus of funds available over funds claimed, too.

    To claim local charity funding, people really need the support of a reference from a local IAG charity.

  5. Thanks for writing all this stuff.

    The mainstream are essentially ignoring all this. It’s shameful and problematic for the entire society, but for an individual to experience it – *and* find it denied wholesale – is deeply traumatic.

    It not only says “You are not part of Society,” but also “Society doesn’t even recognise you (and your loss of Society).” You’re an Un-Person. (That wouldn’t have sounded very traumatic to my ears before I experienced a JSA sanction, 10 weeks with no income, and ending up at hospital. The psychological impact of having one’s society turn its back and completely refuse any help at all cannot be overestimated imo.

    I think it’s a very dangerous thing to be saying to people already on the limits.

    If Society pushes those on the limits even further away, eventually any commitment to that Society will be broken. And why not? British Prisoners receive better treatment than Sanctioned claimants, in so far as they are housed securely and fed.

    Frighteningly, what struck me under sanction was that even Auschwitz inmates had a *ration* – meagre as Hell and often withheld – but it was more than I could obtain as a Sanctioned claimant. My local council ‘FoodBin’ wasn’t allowed (!) to give me food, because I “had been sanctioned.” [18 months later now and I still haven’t been told which jobs I ‘should have applied for but didn’t’ which supposedly warranted the sanction in the first place.)

    Incidentally, one of the chief aspects of ‘Terror’ is its arbitrariness. The more, the ‘better’.

    I couldn’t even find my local CAB. The mental health charity place was always closed……their phoneline led nowhere. The internet only led to a meagre few Charity sites telling you to go to CAB, or write an application letter. Bad websites full of jargon, acronyms, bad information – all saying how much they helped people but with no simple way to get in touch: there was no prospect of money for food immediately and any hope at all lay in a complicated, jargonised, form-filled, mess of …….bullshit.

    All these places telling me to write letters, which I could perhaps do. However, I didn’t have any paper, no pens, no shoes even. No telephone. No internet. All these things I had to get from somewhere else before I could even begin to start the journey of actually getting something to eat. I am starving hungry, cold and perhaps facing eviction – but I have to apply via post!? Some stupid long application for some noncey (and obviously stingey) charity?? I gave away a lot of very personal information for absolutely nothing.

    “Are you in a Crisis? Please write to Lord Effingham’s Foundation at 15 Russell Sqaaare”…………

    It’s ridiculous. The Big Society? There’s nothing there!

    I used someone’s internet to write to MPs, MEP’s, Peers, Charities, whatever I could find. My MP was brilliant but every other Institution was useless. Worse than useless – I used-up others’ goodwill (internet, telephone, shoes) on an entirely fruitless effort.

    I concluded – “Why post a letter applying for some crumbs off the table when it’s wiser to eat the envelope? And the stamp – glue is starch, so it must have some calories? People seem to have missed that you can’t actually eat anything on Google.

    Very few people seem aware of quite how brutal the system is at the moment, and how little of a safety net remains. The people that really know are not the sort of people usually heard. “The marginalised are being brutalised!” is not a big story, for obvious reasons, I suppose.

    The notion that CAB, and the non-existent ‘Big Society’ can ‘deal’ with this stuff – even were they given resources to do so – is scandalous. I don’t want CAB to be given more resources to deal with this – though they surely need more resources. I want the State to properly sort it out. The State is trying to remove its responsibility and shift it onto CAB, and the rest of the Big Society BS.

    This would be an unthinkable scandal under Thatcher. It should be now, judging by Britain’s so-often professed ‘values’. But it’s not. Is that because people not involved know nothing about it? Not surprising when DWP statements published in national Media read like Stalinist fantasy and big M Media ignore it almost entirely.

    OTOH, your site is telling the real story: it gives some solidarity and clarity. It’s “grounding”. It’s reassuring to find someone saying, “Yes, this is happening.” Thank you.

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