For the last couple of years we have participated twice weekly in joint drop in advice sessions, at the Beethoven Centre in Queen’s Park on Monday and at Church Street Library on Wednesday. The sessions are partly financed by the NHS and offer holistic advice from a mixture of health professionals, local councillors, housing officers and the local police, together with legal advice from Coral Williams the local legal aid solicitor and debt and welfare advice from Z2K. At the Beethoven Centre sessions there is also a food cooperative at which it is possible to buy cheap fruit and vegetables and other staples like rice and spices.
I can only comment on the advice part of the sessions. I think they are very successful because they enable the locals who have difficulty in understanding official communications or who need some general information about their rights to obtain quick advice or, if they have a more complicated problem, to find someone who will take it on as casework. Continue reading
Brent Council are currently consulting on their proposed Council Tax Support Scheme for 2013/14. The council is proposing that their scheme effectively remains unchanged from this years, save for a minor addition to those exempt from the iniquitous Minimum Payment of 20%.
As we have explained previously Z2K is totally opposed to the abolition of Council Tax Benefit and the government’s 10% funding cut, but we also think that local authorities that have tried to make up this funding shortfall by introducing a minimum payment are simply heaping further misery on their poorest residents.
In Brent the minimum payment has led to over 3,500 residents who formerly paid no council tax at all being taken to court with threat of almost £100 in legal fees being added to their debt. In our experience these people aren’t refusing to pay but simply can’t. We believe this just the beginning and expect that many more will start to fall into arrears as rising energy and food prices make their budgets unmanageable.
We have explained why we think Brent should abolish their minimum payment and reintroduce 100% council tax benefit in our response to their consultation. If you agree with us please let Brent know by responding to the consultation too. You can see our model response here and find the consultation here.
Beyond the consultation we will continue to campaign in Brent and other London local authorities for the restoration of 100% council tax benefit. If you are interested in getting involved contact us here.
Something that crops up often in the welfare sector is the tricky topic of dependency. It is a label that advisors and caseworkers work hard to discourage by trying to expose the complex and varied reasons why some people find themselves in need of state support and why others don’t. Public discourse on welfare is both politicised and divisive and the media tends to talk either in terms of ‘entitlements’ or ‘hand-outs’ .
I have often wondered how helpful this distinction is. Continue reading
A few months ago I attended a Council Tax summons with a client of ours, Sam. Sam is in his early twenties and looking to turn his life chances around. Previously, lacking qualifications, reluctantly receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) and struggling to find employment, he secured help from a charity that helps young people into work, training or education and provides them with valuable life skills along the way. The charity pays the equivalent of JSA to those it helps but offers significantly more support and guidance than most Jobcentres. The charity’s scheme reduces the pressure on the young people it helps as they do not have to meet stringent and often counter-productive Jobcentre targets.
When I met Sam he was hopeful that within the year he would be in sustainable employment and free from worries. However Lambeth’s decision not retain 100% Council Tax support is preventing the hopes of Sam and many other young people like him from being realised. Continue reading
One client’s story has stuck in my mind for a while now and I want to share it with you so you can see what we do at Z2K, and why our work is so important. Mrs N has four children and suffers from long-term and painful health conditions.
She came to us for help with her Disability Living Allowance and we advised her to claim the new Employment and Support Allowance but there were constant problems getting her assessed correctly. She is on a variety of medication – some to help manage her condition, and some to help with the pain she suffers from. She never complained when the Department for Work & Pensions repeatedly lost her medical evidence, or asked her to complete the application again and again. Continue reading
Since April Brent Council issued over 3500 summons to residents who are being asked to pay council tax for the first time but have not been able to. The borough’s poorest residents had previously been exempt from the charges which were met through their entitlement to council tax benefit. Following the government spending cuts, this is no longer available, and all residents are being asked for council tax contributions. Whether or not they have the money to do so has become more of an afterthought.
Z2K staff was on hand at Brent Magistrates’ Court last Tuesday for the latest round of summons, to offer free advice, help residents apply for reductions to their council tax bill and prevent them from agreeing to unrealistic repayment plans. These, in the long run, can lead to enforcement by bailiff companies and further court action if residents find themselves unable to keep to the agreement; something that is not unlikely given recent reports on the rising cost of gas and electricity, the on-going contributions they are expected to make towards their council tax and the impact the bedroom tax is having on many people in the borough. And Christmas, of course, is around the corner. Continue reading
Pressure on ministers to think again about their disastrous ‘Bedroom Tax’ on Housing Benefit raised another couple of notches, with a back bench debate in the House of Commons last week and a full Opposition Day Debate later today. The back bench debate was initiated by Emma Lewell-Buck (David Milliband’s successor as MP for South Shields) but featured powerful speeches from 15 other MPs, as well as the new Housing Minister and his shadow. We can expect plenty more MPs to contribute to today’s debate.
Momentum against the “Under-occupancy charge”, as ministers would like us all to call it, has been growing inexorably since it came into effect in April and the stories of those affected began to be publicised. Despite, Nick Clegg’s continuing support for the policy, a big majority of Lib Dem members at their annual party conference backed a motion calling for it to be reviewed. And Labour’s Ed Miliband has made it clear he will scrap it if elected. Continue reading
In the nine months from January to September our casework has exploded as the impact of welfare reform is felt by London’s poorest residents. The introduction of the Benefit Cap, the Bedroom Tax, the abolition of Council Tax Benefit as well as the ongoing impact of the LHA caps and the Work Capability Assessment have all meant many more Londoners are in need of our services. This has reflected itself in a big jump in the number of cases we take on. From January to September we had 1,035 new cases, compared to 717 in the whole of 2012. Continue reading
Now that the clocks have changed our thoughts turn to winter and any of you who is over 60 will soon receive your winter fuel payment. In fact, anyone born before January 1952 is entitled to claim the allowance.
Energy costs are very much in the news at the moment, and you may be very annoyed at the cost of your own heating bills. Imagine what it might be like to have to worry about these costs if you were living on Jobseekers Allowance of £71.00pw. Continue reading
In response to the largest shake-up of the UK benefits system, the charity Turn2us has launched a new, free and easy-to-use online Benefits Calculator. With nine out of ten people worried about the benefit changes and personal finances being increasingly stretched, the new Benefits Calculator is a vital tool to help more people access financial support they may be entitled to.
Despite 13 million people living in poverty in the UK, including 4 million children, awareness of the financial support available is low. Based on experience and feedback from service users the calculator helps individuals to find out what welfare benefits they are entitled to, how much they should receive and how to make a claim. The new tool, which is mobile-friendly, also estimates expected Universal Credit entitlement and how it compares to current benefit rates.
In addition to the new Benefits Calculator, the Turn2us website – www.turn2us.org.uk – includes a free Grants Search database and up to date information about benefits and managing money for people from all backgrounds to help maximise their income.