Hertfordshire's Money Advice Unit receives record number of referrals
The data was reported to the latest meeting of the county council’s resources and performance cabinet panel
Advisers at Hertfordshire County Council’s Money Advice Unit have received a record number of referrals.
Residents who are struggling financially can be referred to the service by social workers, housing officers or health professionals.
And last year the unit’s team of specially-trained advisers put more than £22million back into the pockets of residents – in the form of unclaimed benefits.
Data reported to the latest meeting of the county council’s resources and performance cabinet panel showed that referrals had been lower during the pandemic.
But latest available data shows that in June there were 393 – that’s the highest number of referrals to the service ever in a single month and 84 more than the month before.
Head of the money advice unit Gary Vaux says that during the height of the pandemic people were focused on the ‘here and now’ – and getting benefits checked wasn’t the greatest priority.
But now – with unemployment levels in Hertfordshire still DOUBLE what they were before the pandemic – he says they are seeing a lot of ‘pent up ‘ demand.
And, he says, they are now seeing as many claims relating to unemployment as to health-related issues.
Last year (2020/21) Mr Vaux says there were people struggling financially while having to self-isolate and having additional costs – such as shopping delivery costs.
And he points to those residents who have been ‘quite badly affected by the virus – taking up to nine months to recover – and with related claims for disability benefits.
Staff at the unit have supported residents – previously earning around £25k – who have lost their jobs, without savings to fall back on.
And they have worked with families that have relied on two incomes, but lost one during the pandemic – making the difference between managing and not managing.
Many of the people supported by the unit since the start of the pandemic, says Mr Vaux, have never claimed benefits before.
And on average Mr Vaux estimates that the money advice unit has secured around £5000 for each claimant – equivalent to £100 a week.
“A few months without an income really puts people into a difficult situation,” he said.
“£100 a week is the difference between being able to cope and not being able to cope.”
Because he says removing financial pressure can have a real impact on a residents mental health and even on keeping children out of the care system.
And with poverty counting as one of the biggest drivers of relationship breakdown, he says the work of the advice unit can even play a part in keeping families together.
“All we are doing is ensuring people are receiving what parliament is saying they should receive,” he says.
Mr Vaux says it’s the role of the unit just to make sure there are no barriers is in the way to residents claiming their entitlement – whether that’s the forms or the process.
And he says the £22million achieved for residents is £22m that supports the local Hertfordshire economy too.
Going forward, as the country begins to emerge from the pandemic, Mr Vaux points to residents who are finding their employment terms and conditions have changed – maybe their full-time jobs now part-time or their contract is for ‘zero hours’.
And he says he expects demand for the service – which is part of the county council – to remain high.