Practical support for helping families living in poverty

Michael Egan, Money Advice Caseworker at Citizens Advice St. Helens, provides information on the range of practical support available for families living in poverty. He writes in response to the joint report published by the RCPCH and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Poverty and child health: views from the frontline. The report reveals that nearly 4 million children in the UK are living in poverty, a number set to rise by the end of the decade.

This blog will address a number of the issues raised by the report, providing some practical solutions to help families living in poverty. 

Low income

Benefits

Two-thirds of paediatricians surveyed in the Poverty and Child Health report said poverty and low income contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with. The Turn2Us Benefits Awareness Campaign estimates that £15 billion in welfare support goes unclaimed each year. 

The Turn2Us website has a benefits calculator to help families identify state benefits they may be entitled to claim. For those without internet access Turn2Us has a free helpline: 0808 802 2000 (9 am-8 pm Mondays-Fridays)

Many branches of Citizens Advice have experienced benefits advisors who can assist families in completing benefits claim forms and appealing decisions to stop their benefit(s). To find your local Citizens Advice you can search via postcode or town on the Citizens Advice website.

Council Tax: Council Tax is a bill which many families in poverty struggle with, and council tax arrears are now the biggest debt problem reported to Citizens Advice. Since Council Tax Benefit was abolished in April 2013, local councils are now responsible for running their own schemes, often known as ‘Council Tax Reduction’ or ‘Council Tax Support’ schemes. 

Council Tax Help has a postcode search function to help families identify the support available to help them pay Council Tax in their local area.

Housing and homelessness 

Housing problems or homelessness were a concern for two thirds of the Poverty and Child Health report’s survey respondents. Shelter is the national housing and homelessness charity and they have lots of useful information on housing and tenants’ rights on their website. They also have websites specific to Northern IrelandScotland and Wales

Those without internet access can contact Shelter's free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 (open 365 days of the year from 8am – 8pm on weekdays and 8am – 5pm on weekends).

Tenants struggling to afford their rent may be eligible to apply to their local council for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) if their Housing Benefit doesn’t cover their rent payment and they should contact their local council to apply.

The Vicar’s Relief Fund is a homelessness prevention fund and they award grants up to a maximum of £350 to help pay rent arrears for those at risk of eviction.

Financial stress

More than 50% of respondents to the Poverty and Child Health report’s survey said that financial stress and worry contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with. 

Debt problems and interest and charges can often exacerbate low incomes. National Debtline has fact sheets on a variety of debt problems on their website. They also provide free debt advice over the phone: 0808 808 4000 (Open Monday - Friday 9am - 8pm and Saturday 9:30am - 1pm).

For face-to-face advice the Money Advice Service has a useful search function to locate debt advice services in your local area.

Grants

There are hundreds of charitable trusts and funds across the UK who provide free grants to help people in financial hardship. Auriga Services publishes a useful guide to the trusts which provide help with energy and water bills and the April 2017 edition can be downloaded from their website (PDF, 2.14MB).

Turn2Us has a grants search tool and the Directory of Social Change publishes an excellent guide entitled ‘The Guide to Grants for Individuals in Need’ which can be purchased online for £85. This can be a useful reference guide for organisations and departments working with people living in poverty.

Author

This blog was written by Michael Egan, Money Advice Caseworker at Citizens Advice St. Helens: Michael.Egan@sthelenscab.org.uk

Further information on the links between poverty and ill health can be found in our UK wide State of Child Health report.