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Collaborative success for Northants charity

A Northamptonshire charity is collaborating with its network to increase the impact they collectively have in their communities.

Community Law Service has received funding from British Gas Energy Trust for almost ten years, supporting thousands of people to better afford their energy bills and keep homes warmer.

And now, the charity has become part of West Northamptonshire Council’s Anti-Poverty Oversight Group, which features around a dozen voluntary sector organisations providing advice and support for the community.

The group is led by the local authority, which developed and adopted an Anti-Poverty Strategy, from which a series of priorities were agreed which they, along with likeminded partners, are aiming to tackle, including combating poverty and the lack of warm households in the region.

Community Law Service Chief Executive, Sarah Hayle, said:

“In simple terms, being part of this group has made it easier to collaborate and join up services, including improved provision of Household Support Vouchers for those who need them through a new portal, but they’ve also invested in money advice, which is where we specifically come in. Improving access to advice was absolutely essential, and because of this funding, we’ve been able to recruit two new advisors.”

The group has also been able to coordinate almost a hundred new ‘welcoming spaces’ across the west of the county, where the community can go to seek support, social contact and, importantly, warmth if they need it.

Sarah added:

“These spaces were initially set up as warm welcoming spaces and there were 96 of them. And because they were really successful, most of them (92) stayed open throughout the year. They’ve had around 60,000 attendances over the last year or so. And we’ve been able to lead on the delivery of a Community Training Partnership to upskill frontline workers throughout the area so they’re aware of all the services that are available to people. So far, we’ve delivered training to 292 people. It’s going really well. Unfortunately, we can’t be at every single place so it’s about making every contact count. We want people to know exactly which organisation does what and how to refer into them and ensure people get to the right place swiftly. Everyone is really busy so you can imagine how annoying it would be if someone was on a waiting list for a long time only to find out that that organisation couldn’t help them after all. It feels like there’s a lot more cohesion between all the different organisations now. We’re working really closely with all the different partners involved, for example a home improvement agency which can sort issues around a window which doesn’t shut properly or a draughty letterbox.”

The next phase of the group will see more work around prevention, with Sarah hoping for a long-term plan for their advice services.

She added:

“We do a lot of case work. When people come to us, they come to us with complex issues. There are usually multiple issues in one case. The main issue that persists is with benefits – either people not getting what they should be or aren’t getting paid correctly. We’re also seeing lots of billing problems, especially with estimated bills that are wrong. Lots of our service users live in flats and there are lots of occurrences where the wrong meter has been read. Then the problem is trying to get through to speak to people at energy providers to sort the issues – it sometimes takes an hour to get through and then often we’re told we’re not authorised to act on someone’s behalf. It can be incredibly frustrating.”

Over the last 12 months, the charity has supported 859 people in their local area, maximising people’s income by almost £3.5m and managing more than £365,000 worth of debt.

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