Member Spotlight - September 2018

Emma Mullin, Membership Support Officer

Each edition of Advice Matters will now include a spotlight on an Advice NI member, to showcase the excellent services provided to clients through frontline advice within our independent advice network.
Our first Member Spotlight focuses on The Resource Centre who has been providing a free advice service in Derry for over 40 years, working with and on behalf of those who are disadvantaged and socially excluded.
I caught up with Jude McKinney the Advice Manager with The Resource Centre since 2004, to ask a few questions about the centre’s work and the recent changes taking place in the advice sector.
 
Currently what are the main issues clients are presenting with at the Resource Centre?
We are experiencing a huge volume of clients requiring assistance to migrate from DLA to PIP, and this issue is currently a big part of the centres workload. In addition to assisting with completion of PIP forms, we have to assist clients through the mandatory reconsideration process, discuss supplementary payments and assist clients to acquire tribunal representation. Migrating from legacy benefits to universal credit and what financial impact this will have on their income continues to be other main issue our clients present with.
 
Universal Credit was rolled out in the Derry area from 17th January and 7th February 2018, what impact has Universal Credit had on your clients?
The biggest impact continues to be the assessment period when clients do not receive any universal credit payment, causing many clients financial hardship and distress. We also deal with a lot of clients who are not aware they have to apply for Rate Rebate separately, which can cause issues with their housing.
This week we had a client who is in receipt of Universal Credit and had to attend the dentist, only to be informed that he had to pay for his treatment. The client had not been made aware he had to complete a HC1 form in order to be exempt from health costs.
 
How has the roll out of Universal Credit affected service delivery for your advisers?
Universal Credit has increased the amount of referrals we make to local foodbanks, and Derry continues to be an area with one of the highest numbers of people relying of food banks in Northern Ireland. The Universal Credit process being an online application has also created a lack of transparency between advisers and clients, with less clients reporting the outcome of their benefit application to us. As advisers we have to deal with a serious lack of tribunal representatives in the Derry Area due to funding and resource issues, having a detrimental impact on service delivery.
 
Can you highlight one of the many brilliant outcomes your advisers have achieved for clients through all the excellent work the Resource Centre does?
We have achieved enhanced rate awards of PIP for many of our very vulnerable clients, and we continue to support and advise our clients through the universal credit migration process.