Children coming out of education can mean big changes to a family’s income. Joanne* had been receiving Widowed Parent’s Allowance, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit but this was all stopped when her son turned 20. This also resulted in her Housing Benefit being automatically suspended, causing her to fall into arrears. It was at this point that Joanne was referred to our Money Support Team. Joanne was so grateful for the level of support given by Money Support Officer Vicky that she wanted to share her experience in the hope that it may encourage others to use the service, so we visited her at her home to hear her story. Having lost her husband to cancer in 2008, Joanne had since dedicated her life to her disabled son, Peter* who suffers from epilepsy. “My life’s been pretty much Peter 24/7.”
When her benefits came to an end, Joanne should have been moved across to Income Support, which would have meant her Housing Benefit would have been reinstated. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication this didn’t happen “I was told at the time I couldn’t claim Income Support until Carers Allowance was in place; then found out I could, so there was a huge gap between the switch over to the other benefits.”
At the time Vicky received Joanne’s referral, she had been waiting five weeks for a payment and her and her son had been living off his Disability Living Allowance of around £60 per week. Joanne had stopped her direct debits, sold her belongings and was slowly sinking into debt.
“It was a heck of a battle. We just had Paul’s Disability Living Allowance coming in and we managed on that. It had to pay for absolutely everything; all the bills and everything. I was cancelling direct debits left, right and centre. I was selling furniture and stuff.”
“I was just battling through it. I was shopping at Aldi and managing to get by on £14 a week. It gave me the basics to make something – stir-fries are cheap. I would do a roast dinner on a Sunday, make it into a stew on Monday and into soup on Tuesday. I was relearning the skills of my nan. One of the first things I bought was a big bag of pasta. I thought if I get a big bag of pasta and a big bag of rice I’ve always got something in the cupboard.”
Following a couple of phone calls, Vicky was able to speed up the Carers Allowance Claim and arranged for a backdated payment to be paid to Joanne the next day. “I remember thinking I can go and get some food.”
Joanne has a spare bedroom which her daughter uses a couple of times a week to help care for Peter at nights. The way the system is currently set up means that although the spare room is needed, because it is for her son and not her, she is subject to the under-occupancy deduction from her Housing Benefit, leaving a shortfall in her rent that she has to pay. Vicky was able to arrange a six-month Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the shortfall. However, this is only a temporary arrangement and Joanne has agreed to look at downsizing to a two-bedroom property.
Vicky’s support has now come to an end but Joanne recalls what the service meant for her: “It’s such a relief. It’s like someone sent me a magician – that’s how it felt to me. Somebody came to lift that burden off my shoulders and gave me a direction to go in and a focus. Otherwise you can’t see anything; you can’t see a way out.”
While we were at Joanne’s home, she shared her interest in painting. “My dad painted. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his oils, but he wouldn’t let me anywhere near them! It wasn’t until I had Peter when I was stuck at home as he used to get infections every week and I couldn’t go places or mix with people, the kids bought me some acrylic paints. From that moment on I didn’t look back. It was the starting point. Once I found art, that was my lifeline; it gets me through everything.
“I do landscapes and seascapes using oil and acrylics. I’ve got a cupboard full of paintings. I quite often give them to charity to auction off or I give them to family members and friends. It’s my meditation, my escapism. Everything comes out of my head.
“Mentally I’m feeling a lot more positive. I’ve actually got my paints out again.”
Our Money Support Team offers an invaluable service to our tenants. If you or someone you know is struggling, we would encourage you to contact us. We know it can be difficult talking about money problems, but we’re here to help, and everything you discuss with us will be treated confidentially.
*Names changed to protect identity