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Riverside Advice – delivering crucial money and energy support

The Trust focuses on develop pragmatic, practical funding programmes that help provide charities funded by the Trust with the stability to reach out and support those who are seeking help, including those hardest to reach and those identified at being most at risk of fuel poverty.

The following update from Riverside Advice Cardiff illustrates how BGET funding enables projects to deliver crucial money and energy support in a holistic, integrated, coherent way, reflecting and incorporating the needs and experiences of its service users.

Riverside Advice Cardiff team

Riverside Advice Cardiff’s team, friends and family on a fundraising walk

April & May continued to be challenging with the pandemic still effecting the type of service delivery Riverside Advice are able to provide, whilst we have access to our offices for clients to drop essential paperwork but the majority of advice is still delivered via telephone or zoom.

Riverside Advice have however continued to successfully sustain its Welfare Rights Services working at full capacity throughout the pandemic, meeting all targets. Some processes are still taking longer resulting from requirement to deliver advice matters over the telephone rather than face-to-face with very vulnerable clients, and therefore this results in many cases taking longer.

There has been excellent feedback on the services delivered though the project during the COVID19 period, including from the NHS / Health Board which shows the impact of services:

Riverside Advice and 4 Winds are doing one hell of a job with our service users and their financial difficulties. Please keep up the good work you are all doing such a brilliant job in the 3rd Sector. The Clinical Board are extremely grateful for all that the 3rd Sector have done to support Service Users,
Tracey Porter 3rd Sector Commissioning Manager
NHS Mental Health Clinical Board University Hospital Llandough

The service also provide ‘softer outcomes’ demonstrating the value of the bespoke and unique British Gas Energy Trust funded service in delivering positive outcomes to vulnerable people.

These things are stressful when you have a mental health condition like me. Riverside Advice is a lifeline, greatly reducing my stress and anxiety at taking pressure from me – really important for community and people like myself. I cannot thank you enough and especially during these times of lockdown pressure.

During this period the charity delivered a holistic service in partnership with the support organisations and workers from all sectors who identify those in need and refer vulnerable clients to the Trust funded service, (85% referred in this period). The charity’s partnership working has been key to their continued success.

Particularly through this exceedingly difficult pandemic period, where higher level of referrals from partnership organisations is due to COVID19 pandemic; it should be noted that the majority of  clients are not ‘self-presenting’.

The project’s focus on partnership working has sustained a flexible and accessible service to clients, the project has worked with  over 100 different services and support workers from all sectors – over April & May these have included GP’s, Community Mental Health Teams, Salvation Army, Mind, Local Authority Services, and several Housing Associations who support people with complex needs.

Partnership work is critical to identify those in need, those who have fallen through the net of mainstream services, it helps identify vulnerable people and refer them to the service, so that the advisors can holistically help people resolve their immediate financial problems, whilst ensuring that they are better equipped with knowledge and skills for the future.

Issues are becoming more complex, and therefore cases are open longer, often several months before resolution, this is particularly true of Fuel Debt, the project has seen this continuing to be the case, with the complexity continuing to increase due to COVID19. There are currently 70 cases open from previous quarters,  where help is still being provided to the vulnerable household to help them reach a resolution.

Enabled us to not skimp on nutritional meals, and less pressure on cutting down on essentials. I received good advice and my questions were answered. I received help with filling in forms and they helped me understand when I was confused. Helped me with my problems and listened to my queries.

The issues these 70 families are being helped with are mostly those with many debts, including fuel debt, who are seeking Debt reduction orders or facing Bankruptcy. It should be noted that Fuel Debt cases have become very long and complex recently.

In April and May alone there have been 9 new DRO cases and the project has concluded 5 opened in previous periods, with over £132,984 of debt written off.

Since lockdown & social distancing rules were enforced, Riverside Advice has continued to play a key role with referral partners, funders, particularly the NHS University Health Board, and local Umbrella Networks within the Mental Health field and partners from all sectors to ensure inter referrals between organisations and services. This has enabled targeted delivery of their Welfare Rights casework services to best meet the needs of the most vulnerable, particularly for those with mental health illnesses during a very difficult period. This work has ensured the project’s service delivery has been well publicised and targeted within Mental Health Sector.

In light of this Riverside Advice continues to work closely with the Health Board and other referral partners and are part of developing a Mental Health Covid19 Recovery Plan covering current needs and those going forward over the next 12 months as the pandemic hopefully subsides.  Indeed Riverside Advice are playing a critical role within this Recovery Plan with referral partners, funders, including University Health Board and Clinical Board(funder), umbrella body for Mental Health (CVAMH. This partnership provides excellent strategic base to develop and publicise services, particularly for the expected & impending surge in the need for support on Social Welfare Law, for those with Mental Health Illnesses as lockdown’s lifted.

The British Gas Energy Trust funding has been supplemented with a Community Justice Fund Grant, this has further supported partnership working and enhance the Trust funded provision including Welfare Rights services.

Mentally and for my overall health it really helped. The way you responded was when I called was spot on informative and professional. Makes a huge difference don’t know how else I could have dealt with it. Your service is invaluable to the community you serve- many thanks

The feedback Questionnaires received in the quarter all acknowledged that the service;-

Spotlight on DRO / Bankruptcies:

DRO and Bankruptcies are extremely important for vulnerable clients, where one-off ‘events’ such as loss of job, illness, or deterioration in health and lack of assistance at a critical time has caused a multiple Debt situation. These people are identified buy partners and referred to the Trust funded service. These processes and DRO’s and Bankruptcies alongside the other BGET services give these people a second chance and or a fresh start.

The DRO element of the project has received some excellent feedback from clients, as a result Riverside Advice are looking into both the short and the long-term benefits of DRO’s and Bankruptcy, in maintaining a Debt free position into the future; as well as the positive and impact on Health and Wellbeing of this approach vs the management of individual debts. Some of the responses demonstrate that this work is life saving and life changing into the future with long term benefits, not just short-term ones.

You literally saved my life by helping me. I’m unable to work due to chronic illness. I most definitely would not have been able to manage my financial situation, causing more anxiety, stress, worry, more family rows, and impact on my mental health resulting in frequent admissions to hospital. This situation has had an adverse effect on my two young children’s mental health. So please keep helping the most vulnerable people in our society. You really our helping to keep families together, out of hospital, making lives less stressful. I and my family are very grateful for all your help.

The project re-contacts their clients to see how their support has helped, and they have spoken to those clients they helped with DROs since January 2017 at 6 monthly periods,  to assess the ongoing and more long-term difference made from complete debt write off from DRO’s and Bankruptcies rather than individual debts.

Client Profile for new beneficiaries in April and May demonstrates how the Riverside Advice partnership targets and helps the most vulnerable:

Disability

Language and Literacy Difficulties

Geographical Area – Wider County of Cardiff  

Find out more at Riverside Advice Cardiff’s website.