VULNERABLE pensioners in Stockton-on-Tees are £1million better off thanks to a partnership set up to help them with benefits claims.
The partnership, between Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, health agencies, and Stockton Welfare Advice Network (SWAN), was formed in October 2015.
It sees a team of health and social care staff unite as a joint ‘Multi-Disciplinary Service’ (MDS) to provide short-term support to over 65s in their own homes.
The service is for people who have a health and or social care need but are not currently under the care of a health or social care professional.
How does it work?
As part of the support they provide, MDS staff refer some vulnerable clients to SWAN for checks of their benefits entitlements.
The approach has yielded remarkable results.
In just two years, the total in additional benefits claimed by people using the service has smashed the £1million mark.
In some cases they’ve helped people increase their household income by more than £8,500 a year.
Who has benefited from the service so far?
More than 2,200 people have been helped by the service since October 2015, 910 of whom have secured additional income after being referred to SWAN.
One of those to benefit is Winifred, a 76-year-old widow, who says she was ‘gobsmacked’ by the level of help she received.
She suffers from repeat chest infections, osteoarthritis, asthma and poor mobility and was referred to SWAN by Council social care staff.
She was given a full assessment for benefits and energy savings and is now £145 a week better off, which amounts to more than £7,500 a year.
She has used the extra money to install Care Call, hire a cleaner and no longer feels housebound as she can afford taxi fares.
“It has given me more confidence to go out and given me back my freedom,” she said.
Couple, Edna and Ernie, live in their own home and have a range of health problems. Ernie falls regularly and relies a lot on Edna for his care.
But the 81-year-olds are now more than £8,500 a year better off thanks to the service, and among the changes they’ve made is a new stairlift.
Edna has also bought a new microwave as she finds it difficult to cook.
“The extra money has definitely made our lives easier,” she said.
Freda, aged 70, had been a regular swimmer but stopped after a serious operation and had become depressed.
SWAN advisors discovered she had been paying too much rent, which was refunded, and arranged for access improvements at her home.
She has used her increased income to buy an exercise bike and gets out more to attend various clubs.
“I was all over the place and had hit rock bottom,” she said. “I had stopped going out but the SWAN adviser cleared up a lot of concerns.
“I think if they came to see me again, they would think they had the wrong house because I’m a totally different person now.”
What do councillors think?
Councillor Jim Beall, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, said: “This service is making a huge difference to the lives of our most vulnerable residents, many of whom are in ill health and struggling to make ends meet.
“Our adult social care teams work closely with SWAN to refer people for help, and the extra income we are finding is helping them to live longer in their own homes while also preventing avoidable hospital admissions and referrals into long-term social care.
“Those who have benefited are also able to buy home equipment or pay for additional services to make their lives easier.”
Councillor Steve Nelson, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Access, Communities and Community Safety, added: “Assisting in the alleviation of poverty is a key priority for the Council and this is a practical example of that commitment. It’s also a great example of how we are working in partnership with the voluntary sector to protect the vulnerable.
“Once somebody comes into the service, staff at SWAN and partner agencies get to work carrying out benefits checks and providing other financial assistance, such as help with finding cheaper deals for their gas and electricity supply.
“The results have already surpassed all expectations by reaching this milestone so soon, but more importantly, it is easing the pressure on vulnerable residents’ finances while improving their quality of life.”
Where can I find out more?
For more information about the MDS visit www.stocktoninformationdirectory.org/mds
Or, to find out more about the full range of free advice offered by SWAN (which is part of Stockton Advice Service) visit www.stocktonadvice.org.uk