Putting it right for a family in crisis
The knowledge and skills of Citizens Advice Westminster’s money adviser at the North Paddington Foodbank was fully tested when a chance conversation discovered that a recently bereaved client and his two small children were in the middle of a traumatic and tragic family crisis. Her prompt intervention and persistence meant that she was able to put it right for this client, taking up his case with the relevant authorities.
The family had suffered the loss of a newborn baby and, struggling to cope, the wife had then died tragically. The husband was suffering from depression and could no longer work, leaving him to care for his remaining two and five year old children without any source of income. This extreme situation was further compounded by the fact that, as Child Benefit had been registered under his wife’s name, the family had no access to funds while the transfer to his name was being processed. His two children were suffering considerable on-going trauma from remaining in the family flat, with such sad memories of the mother and baby.
The client had also been misdirected by job centre staff when advised to apply for the applicable benefits. They had told him he was ineligible for income support because he was not receiving child benefit. His application for a hardship fund had also been rejected because he was not in receipt of any qualifying benefits. His case had fallen between the various administrative and procedural stools and he had no access to financial support.
As a result of a series of communication failures and internal procedures, the various agencies he had approached had failed to respond adequately to these exceptional circumstances so that he had been left without any money and at risk of immediate eviction.
Our adviser was delighted to step in to help and the first priority was to obtain emergency funds and secure the family’s welfare as Christmas was approaching. As part of the bureau’s Putting it Right campaign, she then followed up with a formal complaint about the minimal and inadequate support from various statutory agencies that had been given to a family suffering exceptional circumstances.
Exasperated at being passed back and forth, and remaining without any monetary support for weeks, it was not until meeting our adviser that he had been informed that he could request emergency financial assistance from Social Services under Section 17 of The Children Act.
Our adviser followed up on his case, only to be told that it had been closed as a food voucher had been issued and no further assistance could be given. Our adviser explained that our client had no means of buying nappies for his youngest child nor of providing hot water for cooking, washing and heating. Moreover, as it was now approaching the Christmas period, many of the services the client would need to access and contact would be closed. At this critical time, his own mental health was deteriorating.
Our advisr contacted the local MP who escalated it to the highest level and secured a promise from social services to provide assistance until the client’s regular benefit payments had been established.
Delays in processing the various benefits applied for meant that it took until 22nd December before he received any Child Benefit, 29th December for Widows Payment Allowance, and 16th January for Housing Benefit to come through. Repeatedly, it took the persistence of our adviser in contacting the relevant authorities to ensure that there were no more hold ups. It was not until March that the family was finally offered alternative accommodation.
The family have now received an apology for the premature closing of their case and for the inadequate response to them at a distressing time. Without the support of the Westminster Citizens Advice adviser, their plight would have been much worse.