Like so many other small advice charities, we have had to quickly review both how we work and how best to maximise our limited resources. The welfare and needs of our staff have been as much on the forefront of my mind as the needs of our clients. Thursday 12th March, when we first moved the staff to home working, now seems like a lifetime away. It was a tough decision to make at the time, because it was before government guidance had become clear, but given our reliance on overcrowded public transport, as well as a small office space, we had no choice but to act quickly. Within a couple of weeks of home working, thanks to the commitment of the operations team, we are all now adept at managing our time and our new forms of virtual communication.
Our very first, emergency response focused on our existing client base, to ensure their safety and welfare. The cancellation of tribunal hearings by the Courts started to come in rapidly, with many of the people we work with left with uncertainty as to what this would mean for them. We worked quickly to seek guidance from the DWP as well as the Tribunal Services on how we could ensure the best outcomes for our clients.
At the same time as securing benefits, our Support workers started to source essential items for those who were most vulnerable – be that a fridge, a portable cooker, or new bedsheets. Our caseworkers have ensured all our clients secure the correct benefits uplifts they are entitled to, and making sure financial sanctions and overpayments are removed for three months.
Whilst stabilising the situations of our existing client base, we have been regularly reviewing the landscape and how we might best utilise our knowledge and expertise to help people who might be accessing our services for the first time.
With the policy landscape changing so rapidly, it has been a challenge to predict how the need might change, as news unfolded about furlough as an option to help businesses avoid making people redundant, then the uplift in sick pay and Universal Credit, followed by emergency powers to prevent landlords from evicting tenants without three months’ notice, we found ourselves constantly reviewing our positions.
Three weeks on from lock down, and it is much clearer who in our client base, are not going to benefit from the post Covid-19 announcements. Our policy work is now focusing on:
- Campaigning as a coalition with the Disability Benefits Consortium for an increase of weekly payments of all legacy benefits in line with uplifts in Universal Credit payments.
- Speeding up Universal Credit first payments, with a one of grant for all new applicants
- Lifting the benefit cap to avoid tenants going into rent arrears.
- Pushing for Government to provide all claimants with the appeal rate while they are waiting for their mandatory reconsideration
From Tuesday 14th April, we are opening our phones lines from 10 to 4 pm. We are also available via our online contacts form. Our services are open to anyone who is:
- of working age
- live in London
- be entitled to means-tested benefits
We are also continuing to plan our longer term response, to be ready to push for a continuation of all temporary uplifts in benefits, a complete suspension of sanctions and the benefit cap, and for continued systemic change to ensure a benefits system that works effectively as a safety net.
So if you need our help, or want to refer someone to us, please do take advantage of our longer phone line hours.