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Foodbank use on the increase in Westminster

FoodbankEvery day thousands of low-income people and families across the UK face hunger, as an unexpected bill or a cash crisis means they have no money for food.

As a result, more and more people are turning to foodbanks, according to the latest data from the anti-poverty charity, the Trussell Trust.

Between 2016 and March 2017, its national network of 420 foodbanks provided 1,182,000 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, compared to 1,109,000 in 2015-16.  In London alone the figure was over 111,000.

Foodbanks provide three days’ nutritionally balanced food and support to people in crisis and many of them offer free additional services, like money and debt advice and budget cookery courses as part of their overall approach, to build resilience and help prevent people needing referral to a foodbank again.

People who come to a foodbank are usually referred by a professional such as a doctor, social worker, health visitor or school liaison office, or by a local Citizens Advice bureau. The food is donated by the public and partner companies.

Once a client has been issued with a voucher, they can exchange it for a minimum of three days’ emergency food supplies at the nearest foodbank.In extreme cases, vouchers may be provided for a number of weeks.

Specialist advisers are also present at the foodbank centre to meet and discuss with clients the underlying cause of their crisis. They can then offer practical advice and information on how to resolve this and get their lives back on track, signposting them to other agencies or support services.

North Paddington Foodbank north paddington foodbank

Citizens Advice Westminster provides the important advice service at the North Paddington Foodbank which was set up by the Wallerton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH) Housing Association in 2013.

Demand has doubled since last year. In 2016/17, it  supported 1168 families compared with 520 the previous year. There are on average 2 people per household and one third of them have children.

Our adviser Noreen O’Neill explains: “I see six or more clients each week for an advice session and I can refer a more complex case for a follow-up casework appointment with myself or a colleague at the bureau. I help a wide range of clients including single parents, the elderly on pension credit, families and, sometimes, ex-offenders on release from prison.

“The typical profile of clients are those struggling to get by on a low income. They are particularly vulnerable to an unexpected bill or loss of benefits or income, as they have no reserves to fall back on.

“Housing benefit is the most common problem, followed closely by rent arrears and general money and debt problems. Sometimes clients can experience a delay of more than six weeks in receiving benefits, leaving them in an impossible situation, unable to buy food. This can happen when new claims are being processed or when a change of circumstances leads to people having their benefits stopped abruptly while they are reassessed.  Sometimes clients are sanctioned, which means repaying benefits that have been overpaid, which then makes their financial situation even worse. One client was left waiting for months during medical assessments, with only £45 a month to live on.”

Successful outcomes for clients

Noreen reports on the successful outcomes achieved for many clients  seen at the foodbank between May 2016 and February 2017:“We were able to secure £132,329 of financial gain as a result of securing a new or increased award of benefits, revisions to payments following an appeal and/or benefits or tax credit gains.

“We are often able to halt bailiff action or avoid or suspend  court or commital proceedings. I also try to assist by accessing other support services which then alleviates the client’s cash flow. For example, I managed to get hold of a washing machine for a client thus saving them the cost of a twice weekly trip to the launderette, so the cash saved could be used to buy food.

“One of the most tragic cases I have ever dealt with emerged by chance at my foodbank session. I noticed a father with two very young children who looked very downcast and approached him to chat. He asked my advice about the coroner’s report he had received about the tragic death of his newborn baby. His wife had also recently died tragically and, as the family benefits were in her name, they had been suspended whilst his new claim was being assessed. In the meantime, he was being threatened with immediate eviction and left without any money for food. I immediately secured a £50 payment that day and was so concerned for his immediate welfare and the children that I escalated his situation to the highest level including our local MP. With her prompt intervention we were able to obtain £1,030 within a week of first speaking to him. I also managed to get toys from Children in Need as this was all happening the week before Christmas.

“I was also able to highlight his urgent housing need as he was still living in the one bed flat among the sad memories of his wife and baby, causing continuing distress to the two young children. He has now been rehoused in a two-bed property with a garden and has been awarded the appropriate benefits.

“This client was not untypical of the way in which clients are driven to a foodbank. Both he and his wife had been in work before the tragic circumstances but were hurled into a desperate plight within a very short space of time, faced with immediate eviction and no food.”

If you need further information on the North Paddington Foodbank you can go to:

For advice on debt, housing, employment, benefits or other general advice contact Citizens Advice Westminster via our website or call our Adviceline on 0300 330 1191.




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