Advice Champions Join Fight Against Welfare Debt

Wednesday 12 March 2014
Six welfare experts have joined the fight against welfare debt in the Highlands after ten local organisations joined forces to bid successfully for ‘Making Advice Work’ funding.

Administered by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), the ‘Making Advice Work’ fund aims to improve access to free impartial advice for people in Scotland.

The group bid secured £200,000, which will fund the new team of support staff until March 2015. Based at five locations across the Highlands (Invergordon, Inverness, Fort William, Portree and Wick), its purpose will be to provide options for people affected by the bedroom tax and support benefit claimants to manage their finances effectively.

The team includes Wendy Fraser and Fiona Munro at Albyn Enterprises, Mark Beveridge at Inverness, Badenoch & Strathspey Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Alex Macleod at Skye and Lochalsh CAB, Jennifer Harvey at Pultneytown People’s project and Margaret Binnie at Lochaber CAB.

Wendy Fraser, Housing Options Officer with Albyn Enterprises Limited (AEL), has seven years’ experience of working with housing support providers. Most recently she worked with those living with, or facing, homelessness.

She said: “This week alone, I have encountered two families who were unaware that they were eligible for financial assistance through discretionary housing benefit. Since the reduction of housing benefit in April 2013 both families had been meeting this cost, determined to avoid arrears with their rent. Sadly, this had regularly been at the cost of eating, and of sufficiently heating their home.

“I would urge anyone who has not completed an application for discretionary housing benefit to contact their housing provider, or the Making Advice Work project directly so that we can assist them to apply.

“There is an uncertainty over how long the additional funding will be available for, or if indeed the changes might be reverse. Also, whilst many tenants will wish to remain in their current homes, others are keen to downsize or explore other housing options.

“We can support tenants who wish to remain in their existing properties by helping them find ways of reducing the financial burden. We can provide money advice and help people explore options such as home-sharing. We can support those seeking to downsize by exploring potential solutions including transfer or mutual exchange.”

We led the funding bid in partnership with Cairn Housing Association, The Highland Council, Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association, Lochaber Housing Association and Pentland Housing Association.

Calum Macaulay, our Chief Executive, commented: “It is coming up to a year since the so-called Bedroom Tax was introduced by the UK Government, and affected tenants across the Highlands are really feeling the pinch. In an area where smaller accommodation is in short supply, particularly in small and fragile communities, the option to downsize simply doesn’t exist for some people. What’s more, in many cases, the criteria that identifies whether a room is surplus to requirement often ignores the needs of carers, families and those with disabilities or other healthcare needs.

“Albyn Housing Society and fellow housing providers across the north are doing what they can to support tenants and demand for assistance and advice has been overwhelming. The new team of welfare experts funded by the Making Advice Work programme is a vital resource in the battle against welfare debt, and we urge affected tenants to use its services.”