Carol was referred to our Money Matters Service at the very start of the Covid19 lockdown, just after her husband had passed away from cancer.
All the existing benefits were in her late husband’s name and had been cancelled with immediate effect upon notification of his death. Carol’s only income at that time was her £98.89 weekly state pension. Her Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support had been stopped and she was accruing rent arrears.
Due to the pandemic being at its height, Carol was directed to sort out her claim for Housing Benefit & Council Tax Support online. She didn’t have a smart phone or computer and had no experience of going online. Her son and daughter both lived over an hour away and due to the lockdown were unable to visit other than to leave food on her doorstep.
As you can imagine, being recently widowed, this was very stressful and she felt very overwhelmed.
The first contact I had with Carol was on the telephone as our normal ‘face to face’ service was unavailable due to Covid 19 visiting restrictions. For the main part, my conversation was to reassure her that I would be able to help her to make an online claim and request a start date from the day her original benefits were cancelled. I explained the claim would cover the arrears that had accrued on her rent account and that I would make a note to that effect on her records so no arrears action would be taken.
She broke down in tears of relief.
I called Carol two days later to complete the forms for Housing Benefit, Council Tax Support and Pension Credit with her. Once the applications were made, I helped her submit a proof of tenancy online and she posted copies of her bank statements to Kirklees Council. It’s worth noting here, that cross partnership working has been very successful during this period of lockdown. Queries have been answered quickly and concessions made for data sharing that have made it easier to provide telephone and online support to tenants. This is something we hope to learn from and build into a new ‘normal’ going forwards.
Carol was awarded Pension Credit of £99.33 per week doubling her weekly income to £198.22. She was also awarded Housing Benefit of £73.01 per week and Council Tax Support of £15.47 per week, as well as a backdated payment of £661.20 which cleared her arrears. The total annual benefit gained was £9,766.12.
For Carol, the emotional support that our intervention gave her, and the reduction of her stress and isolation at this extraordinary time, was as important to her as the financial gain she received. The reassurance, guidance and compassion made her feel valued and more able to cope.
(Carol is not her real name).