Stories from the frontline
How we are Helping the People of Wiltshire Successfully Deal with Life's Problems
- Domestic violence forced Penny to flee her home. When the police moved her away from the neighbourhood to protect her and her baby, Penny also had to leave her job behind. Read her story...
came to us to seek advice regarding water rates arrears. Now his debts have been sorted and he feels "like great weight has been lifted" from his shoulders. Read his story...
came to us with notice of a warrant for his arrest - for non payment of council tax. The council tax account has now been sorted and he's now dealing with his other debts. Read his story...
lost his job and his home, then he sought advice, now he is putting his life back together. Read his story...
first came to see us with a request for a food voucher, now she has peace of mind. Read her story...
has physical and mental disabilities following a serious car accident, benefits sanctions added to his distress, we've helped him recover over £2,200 of incorrectly withheld benefits. Read his story...
Tom, who is retired and his wife, who cares for him, live in a house rented from their local housing association.
Tom was diagnosed with mouth and tongue cancer in 2011. He now has metastatic cancer and is terminally ill.
They had been told that under special rules because of his condition, Tom was entitled to Attendance Allowance. They came to us for help in understanding what impact this would have on their current benefits - they are in receipt of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction, which covers their rent and council tax.
We explained that as Attendance Allowance isn't means tested, and is exempt from the benefits cap he would not have money taken away from any other benefits. We also explained that once Tom is in receipt of Attendance Allowance, his wife will also be entitled to claim Carers Allowance.
We helped Tom and his wife to make their applications and Tom is now in receipt of Attendance Allowance of £82.30 per week, plus a Blue Badge and a carers premium of £34.60 per week. His wife is also now in receipt of Carers Allowance of £62.10 per week.
Although a relatively straightforward case, the additional income will help significantly over the course of the next few months.
*client name has been changed.
Jess is a young mother, with two children under five and a partner.
She has been struggling with mounting non priority debt for several years and this was affecting her relationship and health.
The Caseworker on our GP Surgeries project helped Jess to apply for a Debt Relief Order. This has now been approved and her debts of just over £3,000 will be written off.
This will enable Jess and her family to have a fresh start.
*client name has been changed
Steve came to us in great distress, as his Employment Support Allowance (ESA) had stopped and he had been deemed capable of working.
He has severe osteoporosis as well as curvature of the spine. We talked through the fact that he would need to report a change in his circumstances to begin a new claim.
We asked him if he had included his mental health issue on the form (he suffers from psychosis). He said that he had been too ashamed to admit that he has hallucinations and hears voices. Also, he wasn’t aware that these would also be considered for his ESA claim.
We were able to constructively explore the relevant factors around Steve’s mental health issues.
With the support of the project his ESA is now back in place.
Penny* moved from Poland to England in 2008 and worked full time to support herself for five years. In 2013 she had her first child and took maternity leave from her job. Unfortunately, she couldn’t return to work because she had to leave home urgently to escape from domestic violence, and the police moved her away from the area for her safety and to protect her baby.
Penny claimed income support and housing benefit for the first time just before Christmas 2013, when her maternity allowance stopped. As a single parent she thought that this would give her some money to support herself and her baby until she could find childcare and proper housing and start working again. Her claim was turned down in February and although she provided evidence of her work history it was refused again in May. She was given permanent residence by the Home Office in June, and although the DWP advised her she could now claim income support using this evidence, when she applied they rejected her again, because they made another error with her claim.
By the time Penny came to see our specialist benefits adviser she was desperate, having contacted the DWP at least 20 times, with the support of the staff at the women’s refuge where she was staying and of her MP, but with no success. She owed over £5000 in rent to the refuge, and had no way to repay this. She and her baby had about half of the money they needed each week to buy essentials such as nappies and food.
We quickly got the DWP to reconsider their latest decision and start paying income support, and supported her to provide evidence for an appeal. As a result of our help the appeal was decided in her favour and she was awarded the 39 weeks of income support and housing benefit she was entitled to. This meant she could clear her rent arrears and start to look for a place to live and some furniture to put in it. A year that started with relationship breakdown, abandoning her home, living in poverty with her baby and fighting for her rights is ending with hope for the future. In Penny’s words, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your professional support.”
*Name has been changed
Sue* was struggling to manage her debts, including council tax arrears. We carried out a full debt appointment and as part of our income maximisation work, we identified Sue* could make a claim for Personal Independence Payments and gave advice on how to make a claim. We also identified that her son had been receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA), for quite some time, but Sue had failed to notify benefit departments, such as Child Tax Credits so she wasn’t receiving all the benefits she was eligible for.
We assisted Sue* in notifying all benefit agencies and she was awarded some backdates. We further advised Sue* to make a claim for Carers Allowance as she was caring for her disabled son, who was receiving Disability Living Allowance. Sue was later awarded the standard rate of Personal Independence Payments (PIP). As a result of the Carers Allowance and PIP award Sue’s* Employment & Support Allowance was also increased. With the advisors help Sue* was also awarded a Carer Premium and a Severe Disability Premium.
The total financial benefit to Sue*, including backdates totalled £14,711.30. The backdated payments Sue* received were in excess of her total outstanding debts and so as a result Sue is now in a position to clear her debts in full. Sue also now has sufficient income so she will not need to take on further credit again in the future.
With the specialist welfare benefit advice from the advisor, in the GreenSquare Tenants Support Project, Sue’s* problem has been resolved and her life has been changed.
*Client name has been changed
Never Ever Give Up - Ex-Gunner John's* Story
John is 51 years old and lives in a one bedroom apartment; he receives Employment and Support Allowance plus an Industrial Injuries payment.
In February 2014 John came to us to seek advice regarding water rates arrears. During this initial discussion it became known that he was a Wiltshire Council Tenant so John was referred to our Tenants Project for debt advice.
John had no paperwork so a number of phone calls were required to established that there were Water Rates, Rent and Council Tax arrears totalling around £3,200. The Council also confirmed a historical Housing Benefit overpayment that was being repaid via a benefit deduction of £10.80 per week.
A first draft Financial Statement clearly showed that John could not afford to maintain various payments to non priority creditors as well as meeting his Rent and Council Tax liabilities despite his best efforts (his allocated budget for food and milk was £35.00 per fortnight).
With no assets and no disposable income a Debt Relief Order looked like an obvious solution but at this stage the overall debt total was unknown.
During May the credit report arrived and twenty separate creditors were listed increasing the overall debt liability to around £15,000. The eligibility criteria for a Debt Relief Order was discussed along with the possibility of a bankruptcy order.
With little or no paperwork to evidence the debts the next stage was to write to all of the creditors requesting current balances and reference numbers.
A missed appointment towards the end of May signalled that John may have run out of patience regarding the debt process and following a number of failed phone calls a letter was sent advising that the file would need to be closed if we could not re-establish contact.
John responded and an appointment was made to review the situation, it was now July and there had been a very disappointing response to the creditor letters. Some immediate action was required so John was asked to attend a meeting to provide authority whilst the debt adviser telephoned the various creditors.
Contacting twenty separate creditors is not a simple task and it took two ninety minute sessions. Multiple contacts were required as debts had been sold on to various collection agencies. At this stage John had managed to save the £90 fee needed for a Debt Relief Order by taking up a paper round under the permitted work rules.
During the marathon telephone sessions John was constantly asked for his security details (date of birth, address etc) and it was noticed that he used the phonetic alphabet when giving his post code. As a result it was discovered that he had served in the Royal Artillery many years ago. Charitable support was discussed and an appointment was made with the local SSAFA representative.
During the first week of September a Debt Relief Order was submitted and approved for £12,600 (some of the previous debts had been duplicated so the eligibility criteria was not compromised). Arrangements are in place for the rent arrears and SSAFA have provided funds for the Debt Relief Order fee as well as a new double bed and mattress for John.
The last words from John? - “I feel like great weight has been lifted from my shoulders”.
*Client name has been changed
Toby has mental health issues (anxiety and depression). His affairs were being dealt with by his sister, but she moved away from the area and he has lost that ongoing support. He came to us with notice of a warrant for his arrest - for non payment of council tax.
An emergency appointment with one of our Debt caseworkers was booked for him but unfortunately he didn’t attend. He contacted us much later in the day to advise that he missed his appointment because his medication makes it difficult for him to wake up until late in the afternoon.
The caseworker contacted him by phone to discuss his debts. A draft financial statement was prepared for him to take to the court, along with a letter for attention of the Judge to explain his circumstances.
The outcome of the hearing was good, and the council tax account has now been sorted out. The council will also consider writing off all of his arrears if he maintains payments on his current liability.
Recognising the difficulty for Toby to attend a face-to-face appointment, the caseworker sent relevant consent forms for him to sign and return. All further contact so far has been by telephone, which has been much better for Toby. There are other non priority debts to deal with, but we are taking it slowly as this makes it easy for Toby to deal with.
*Client name has been changed
Mr D. is a single man in his 50's living on his own in rented housing. Following a serious car accident he has physical and mental disabilities, including mobility problems, brain damage leading to memory problems and learning difficulties, including difficulty understanding and responding to complex written information and difficulty remembering appointments and managing his daily life.
Mr D. has faced several problems dealing with DWP mistakes in the last 2-3 years, whilst he has been seeking work. In 2012/13, he was underpaid £31/week for over 9 months, when his part-time job ended and the change in circumstances he reported to the DWP was not actioned, as the DWP paid him as if he was working. After a complaint from Wiltshire Citizens Advice he was awarded over £1,100 in back payment of benefit.
In August 2013 his Jobseekers Allowance was stopped abruptly after the DWP decided he had not attended a job seeking interview. This caused associated problems with his linked awards of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction. Citizens Advice represented him at a benefit tribunal and the judge ruled in his favour, with the result that he received £235 in back payment of benefit.
In October 2013, whilst struggling to cope with this cut in his benefit, he was sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for enough jobs. Again, Wiltshire Citizens Advice supported him to appeal this decision, which was overturned, resulting in repayment of £930 in withheld benefit. To add to his distress, he was refused hardship payments on the grounds that he had “savings” – this was some of the money repaid by the DWP from their previous error in 2013.
The impact of these errors and failure by the DWP to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person is that Mr D. has suffered from periods of depression, has struggled to budget and to manage his basic needs, such as food and heating. At times he has relied on food parcels from his local food bank, and has been supported by his local church. Although he has been successful in his appeals, the DWP and tribunal process is very slow, so it has taken over 8 months to resolve both these appeals – that is 8 months of not knowing what may happen, failing to be believed and having to prepare evidence. Mr D. now lives in fear of the next decision by the DWP to sanction or stop his benefit without warning.
In total, Wiltshire Citizens Advice has helped him recover over £2,200 of incorrectly withheld benefits.
It started with a food voucher request…
…Mrs A first attended the Salisbury office in September 2013 in order to request a food bank voucher, during this meeting the client reported increasing levels of concern regarding rent arrears that were accruing as a result of under occupancy or the ‘bedroom tax’ as it has come to be known. The client has a two bedroom council property where she has lived for 28 years and is in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance.
There were no other debts other than the rent arrears which totalled around £250 at that point. Her weekly shortfall as a result of the ‘Bedroom tax’ came to a little over £12.00. Mrs A does not enjoy good health and has found the letters from the Council regarding her rent arrears both worrying and distressing.
A call to the Council confirmed the facts and allowed the case to be put on hold whilst we searched for potential solutions. In terms of increasing Mrs A’s income there was limited potential but an Assisted Water Tariff was secured which resulted in a saving of £164 p.a.
A discussion about potential charitable support for the rent arrears uncovered the fact that Mrs A had worked for a major high street bank in the past. Further investigations led to the identification of a pension fund worth £2909.80 accessible on Mrs A’s 60th birthday in June of 2014.
With the pension fund providing evidence of employment with a bank it was possible to apply for a charitable donation through a banking charity.
The grant totalled £892.81 which included £448.81 for rent arrears, £244 for bus passes and £200 for general living expenses.
These amounts were designed to allow the client to pay off the accumulated rent arrears and maintain rent payments for the next six months at which time the occupational pension will become available. The £200 for general living expenses could be spent as she wished.
Early in 2014 the reports of the ‘bedroom tax’ legislative loophole began to emerge and following a discussion with the client Wiltshire Council were informed that it was believed Mrs A met the qualifying criteria as she had been in the same property for 28 years and had been in receipt of housing benefit for some time with no significant breaks. Shortly afterwards confirmation was given that Mrs A’s rent arrears would be reversed and that her Housing Benefit would not be reduced again until early April 2014.
Having discussed the matter of the rent arrears with the bank charity they felt that the grant had been made for the good of the client and asked if the client could usefully use the £448 that had been allocated for rent arrears. Mrs A has now ordered a new fridge / freezer, bed, mattress and microwave oven. The current items had all been purchased when she first moved into her council property 28 years ago and are in various states of disrepair.
Mrs A now has the peace of mind of knowing that she has no rent arrears and when her Housing Benefit is reduced again in April she will be able to afford the shortfall as her bus passes funded by the charity have released £18.00 per week from her normal budget. These travel costs are unavoidable as she has no vehicle and needs to attend various job seeking commitments to avoid sanctions.
In June of 2014 Mrs A will be able to draw on her banking pension including a tax free lump sum.
The total value of benefit delivered to Mrs A exceeds £4400 brought about as a result of advice and interaction with various agencies, she has reported that her health has improved as a result and that for the first time in many years she is looking ahead with optimism.
Wiltshire Citizens Advice helped me when...
... I was in debt and my home had been repossessed. Mr I's story...
"I am an industrial engineer by profession and always considered myself very able to deal with life’s many ups and downs. However, after a series of mishaps coupled with ill-health and job-loss, I found myself unable to cope with the myriad of problems which I was presented with. On advice from my social worker, I contacted C.A.B. and was lucky to be placed in the hands of FS.
"I know that no favouritism is shown by your staff in anyway, but the service and support I received led me to feel that I was someone special.
"This young lady explained everything that was happening and what was necessary for me to do. She always seemed to know instinctively when to phone with support and clarification to such an extent that I was moved to tell her that she had given me my confidence back once again...
"I am humbled, and also encouraged to see that this is possible in our society today…"
Later down the line Mr I let us and FS know how he was getting on:
"We are continuing to rebuild our lives after a very traumatic 2 and a half years of worry and stress due to the financial position we found ourselves in. There have been plenty of tears along the way but now the property we are living in has become our home and we are enjoying our lives and children once again. The help that you gave us was invaluable and the advice was first class... we are still struggling with the bills like most people but the difference is that we do get them paid and our whole outlook on life has changed... We will never forget you or the CAB for the wonderful way you helped put our lives back together."