The following is a guest post by Z2K volunteer Mike Duggan
Mrs X, a lady from southern Europe working in London as a cleaner, had been summonsed for alleged non-payment of council tax. As a Z2K volunteer I was asked to help, and we arranged an interview at the Z2K office about a week before the court case was due. That’s when the problems started.
Firstly, Mrs X did not have good English. But she had brought one of her two sons, who could interpret. Secondly, it was very hard to determine the facts of the case. Although it was clear that Mrs X’s council tax bill had soared overnight in late 2012, to the extent that she simply couldn’t pay it on her cleaner’s wage, the reason for this was far from evident. Continue reading
Z2K Team before the walk
On Monday 20th May a team of Z2K staff, volunteers and friends took part in the London Legal Walk. The Walk raises money for a wide range of charities and organisations to provide free legal advice. This year it was bigger than ever before with a record of 428 teams and 7,500 walkers, among them Judges, QCs, solicitors and legal advisers.
This year’s walk comes at a time when the government has cut the legal aid bill by £350 million a year, removing support for most housing, debt and welfare related cases. This will have a devastating effect on the ability of people in poverty to access justice. For example Shelter have said they will have to cut 10 of its housing advice centres in England because of an effective 50 per cent reduction in funding for the charity’s face-to-face advice services. It is in this context of growing demand and falling supply that access to free legal advice is more important than ever before.
The Z2K team were walking to raise money for our vital advice and support services. It took 11 of us just over two and half hours to walk the 10km around London (some slower than others!). We were left tired and blister ridden but our exertions were for a worthwhile cause. We have already seen a huge increase in our caseload this year and many of the benefit changes have yet to take full effect. We are pleased therefore to have raised just over £9,000 so far. But while this is an impressive amount it falls short of last year’s £10,623.50 and our target of £15,000 so if you haven’t already you can still donate here.
Part of the money raised will go to our Relief from Poverty fund which is used to make one off payments to temporarily help vulnerable families and individuals who find themselves with no other source of income through no fault of their own.
For example one of our clients had all his benefit taken away as a sanction for not attending a JobCentre meeting because he was busy attending a course the JobCentre had sent him on. We helped him to appeal successfully but this took a couple of weeks during which he had no funds at all. The fund gave him some money for food and fuel without which he would have gone hungry. If you want to help us to continue to support clients such as these please give generously.
The following is based on a real life example of one of our clients
Georgina is a single mother, having left a violent and abusive husband, with 3 children (aged 4, 7 & 10). When she was with her husband he was working in London so they needed to live in London. Now she is raising her three children single-handedly, through no fault of her own. She lives on benefits and relies on the support of local friends and family. Her ex-husband is not contributing in any way.
Her housing benefit was cut last year as a result of the housing benefit caps so, in order to remain close to her support systems, she downsized and now lives with her 3 children in a 2 bedroom flat at a rent of £330 per week.
She currently receives £591.73 a week in income support, child benefit, child tax credit and housing benefit. Prior to April 2013 this left her with £261.73 after rent, however she now has to pay £4.37 a week in Council Tax. After paying her energy bills she is left with £220 with which to feed and clothe her children and take them to school.
From 15th July she will be subject to the benefit cap meaning her Housing Benefit entitlement of £305.77 will be reduced to £214.04. After she pays her rent and energy costs this will leave her with just £128.63 a week to survive on – an impossible task. What would you do in her situation?
Issue 6 of our quaterly newsletter is out now, you can download it here. This issue covers the staffing changes at Z2K as well as the exciting news that we have received further funding to expand our casework. The issue also focuses on our volunteers with stories of how they came to volunteer at Z2K and their experiences so far. We hope you enjoy reading it!
We are looking for a new Trustee to join our board (currently comprised of six). The successful candidate will provide oversight of our financial affairs, advise the board on all decisions that have a substantial financial impact and to act as Company Secretary. We are looking to attract someone with a background in accountancy and some experience of charity accounts.
The board meets 4 times a year in the evenings in SW1 and on one Saturday a year for a strategy day. We have no standing subcommittees at present but the Treasurer is called upon for advice by the Chief Executive on an ad hoc basis. The Company Secretary tasks are limited to recording appointments and resignations, arranging the AGM and ensuring compliance with Companies Act regulations. The total time commitment is equivalent to about 7 days a year.
Trustees are not paid and are initially appointed for 3 years. For more details please see:
Applications should be made by sending a CV and covering letter detailing your suitability for the post to Joanna Kennedy by Monday 20 May 2013.
Responsible to: Chief Executive Officer
Hours of work: Full time, 5 days a week
Salary: £30,000 – £35,000 per annum
Contract: 12 months contract (further funding applied for)
Holidays: 28 days including bank holidays
This is an exciting new opportunity to manage the casework services provided at our Victoria office. We work through a small staff team together with a number of casework volunteers. This role will involve conducting your own casework and advocacy and also providing training, management, support and mentoring to the rest of the team. You will also work with the team in the Queen’s Park office to improve quality control and efficient working.
The successful applicant will need to demonstrate:
- At least 5 years’ experience in social welfare casework;
- Experience of providing advocacy in courts or tribunals;
- Management skills, including the ability to prioritise workloads and resources to maximise the efficiency of the casework team;
- A good knowledge of the welfare benefits system.
The full job description is available here.
To apply, please email your CV and cover letter explaining how you meet the person specification and how you would be able to carry out the job effectively based on the job description. Please send your CV and cover letter to email@example.com
Closing Date: Tuesday, 7 May 2013
We expect interviews to be held shortly after the closing date.
Z2K is currently supporting the third Annual Benefits Awareness Month campaign to raise awareness of the welfare benefits changes and encourage anyone who may be struggling financially to check what support is available to them.
As part of the campaign Turn2us has published new research* showing that those who could be in most need of financial help are not accessing the support available to them. The results reveal that 78% of people on low incomes who are currently not claiming any means-tested benefits don’t think they are entitled to any support. This is despite the fact that 22% had experienced a decrease in income over the past year and 11% had seen a reduction in their working hours.
The findings also suggest that the current changes to the welfare benefits system could further deter people from making a claim. Of those who are aware of the changes, 48% believe it will be harder for people to make a claim, and over two-fifth 42% believe that claimants will be worse off financially, once they have taken effect.
Although the media retains its focus on the very small number of fraudulent welfare claims these are dwarfed by the £19 billion in welfare benefits that sill goes unclaimed every year. Thousands of low-income families struggle to make end meet, either unwilling to claim benefits because of perceived stigma or ignorant of their entitlement. While benefits are placed under such intensive media scrutinty it is vital that those people are not deterred from claiming what they’re entitled to.
The campaign website features a free and easy-to-use Benefits Calculator that allows users to work out which welfare benefits and tax credits they might be entitled to, possible amounts they might receive and how to make a claim. The website also contains clear factsheets with up to date information about the benefits changes, with details on who will be affected, and when.
Benefits Awareness Month runs until 30th April 2013. For more information, please visit the website.
* Research was undertaken in March 2013 by Research Now. The total sample size was 1,014 adults with an annual household income of £20,000 or less before taxes and deductions who are currently not claiming any of the following benefits: Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.
Joanna Kennedy, Chief Executive of Z2K, and Romin Sutherland, manager of our NextDoor project, both appeared on radio and television a number of times yesterday to comment on the introduction of the overall Benefit Cap, which limits the amount of benefits a couple can receive to £500 a week or £350 for an individual. You can listen again using the links below:
- Romin on BBC Radio 5 Breakfast Show Live – Link (skip to 1.07)
- Romin on BBC London Breakfast Show – Link (skip to 2.04)
- Joanna on BBC London Drive Time – Link (skip to 1.05)
Paul Nicolson, former Chair of Z2K and current Trustee, appeared on ITV’s Daybreak show, which can be seen here (skip to 16.00).
For more information on the Benefit Cap read our blog post here.
Today the government’s overall benefit cap came into force in four London boroughs (Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey), before being rolled out nationally from July. The policy is meant to prevent benefit claimants from receiving more than the average earnings of those in work. In practise this means that benefit payments will be capped at a maximum of £350 a week (including housing benefit for rent) for single adults without children and £500 a week for couples or those with children. The government therefore argues that the policy is both fair and will help to tackle the deficit by reducing the benefit bill, but the reality is that neither of these assertions is true.
Firstly even some parts of the government admit that it will not achieve its stated aim of saving money. In a leaked letter to David Cameron from the office of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, we read the following:
“[the measure] does not take account of the additional costs to local authorities (through homelessness and temporary accommodation). In fact we think it is likely that the policy as it stands will generate a net cost”
The benefit cap will mean many thousands of families can no longer afford their rent and will be evicted, making them homeless. Local authorities will have a duty to house these families and the cost of doing so will quickly erode any savings made in reduced benefit payments. In the same letter it is revealed that the DCLG modelling shows that the cap will cause an increase in homelessness applications of 20,000.
Secondly the idea that the policy is fair because it prevents a non-working family earning more in benefits that the average earnings of a working family is based on a myth, because it excludes in-work benefits. For example a couple with three children earning £26,000 after tax and with rent of £400 a week would receive £9,689 a year in Housing Benefit, £2,095.00 in Child Tax Credits and £2,449.20 in Child Benefit. This couple would therefore receive not just £500 a week in their net earnings but £773 a week including benefits, a considerably greater sum!
If the cap was to be truly fair it should therefore be based on a working families average net income (rather than average net earnings) which would make it significantly higher at more than £30,000 a year.
We have reported elsewhere the devastating impact the cap will have on large families or carers for disabled people and there are many other reasons why this policy is so disastrous. But even if you brush these not insignificant concerns aside the simple truth of the matter is that the benefit cap even fails on the government’s own terms: it’s not fair and it doesn’t save money. That’s why it has to go.
As part of the Benefits Awareness Month campaign, which Z2K is supporting, Turn2us has published new research into existing benefits claimants understanding of welfare reform. The research (undertaken in March 2013 with 1,012 benefit claimants) has revealed that 43% of people claiming benefits that will be replaced by Universal Credit, aren’t aware that their benefits will be affected, and 77% of those who are aware said they are not confident that they know how or when it could affect their benefits.
Similarly, over a third (35%) of people in England currently receiving Council Tax Benefit said they are not aware that they may be required to pay more or all of their council tax from April. Over two-thirds (68%) said that should they be required to pay more council tax they would have to cut back on heating and food as there was nowhere else the money could come from.
These research findings chime completely with Z2K’s experience. Many of our clients are completely unaware of the coming changes and those who have been informed don’t fully understand how they will be affected.
We are working hard to ensure that all our clients understand how they will be impacted by the changes and the Benefits Awareness website hosted by Turn2Us is invaluable in this respect. The website features simple factsheets on each of the changes, including details of when and where they are taking place, plus a step-by-step decision tree tool to help people work out whether they’ll be affected. The website also includes a free and easy to use Benefits Calculator so users can check they are receiving all of the welfare support they are entitled to.
Benefits Awareness Month runs from 3rd to 30th April 2013. For more information about the campaign click here.