Jenny is our new Welfare Rights Officer; she joined the Advice and Assessment team in November 2014, thanks to money raised by our supporters. Jenny provides expert advice and support to individuals with complex welfare needs. The following is a typical day for Jenny, it gives real insight into the vulnerable people she helps every day.
A 19-year-old resident in the Centre's young persons' hostel has been refused Income Support from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Originally from Lithuania, he moved to the UK at the age of 11, but has since become estranged from his mother, who left the UK at the end of 2013. I am certain that he has previously received permanent residence in the UK, but finding the proof for this has proved difficult, so I start the day with a call to the DWP, who maintain that Matas is not entitled to benefits. With some luck Matas's sister manages to get in contact with their mother and receives some assurance that the crucial paperwork we need has been found. I explain everything to the DWP, outlining just how difficult things for the young man are. The DWP agree to consider the new information we have and offer to try and resolve the issue rather than waiting for a tribunal. Appeal processes can be painfully slow, and we agree that we need to work together to ensure that the issue is resolved as quickly as possible. Next I meet with a woman called Natalie who has been receiving support from the Centre's Employment team. Natalie is facing imminent eviction from her hostel due to rent arrears. She has been working on a zero hours contract since November, however her housing benefit still hasn't been reassessed and as such she has received no payments with which she can pay her rent. As a result she is £2000 in arrears. Last week I contacted Housing Benefits on her behalf and requested an immediate reassessment, highlighting the urgency of the situation. We both head to Natalie's appeal case and we're in luck " the Service Manager from the hostel is holding a letter from Housing Benefits. Natalie's money has come through and the Service Manager agrees to overturn the notice. A small deficit in payment remains so we agree to an affordable repayment plan for the remaining £105, with Natalie agreeing to repay £3 a week until the arrears have been cleared. She is visibly relieved. We arrange to meet up again to ensure she understands the new Housing Benefit amount and how much she will need to pay each week.
When I get back to the Cardinal Hume Centre I work with two young clients in very similar situations " a 17 year old Afghan girl who has arrived in the UK on her own and been granted refugee status; and an 18 year old Eritrean who has just joined his mother in the UK after years of separation. Both of the young people will need to learn English but neither of them has any income of their own and no one who can claim benefits on their behalf. They are both socially isolated and the 18 year old is facing homelessness too. At the moment he spends all day in a shared B&B room, too frightened to go out and explore on his own because he can't speak any English. Their problem is their age " someone needs to claim benefits on their behalf, but this can't be done before they have enrolled on an approved education course. They both need to enrol on a full-time ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) course, but no one is willing to take them in the middle of a year. I've made contact with the Refugee Support Network - a charity providing education-specific support - and today they have come down to meet my clients with me. We talk things through and I update them on what we've done so far. They don't have a magic answer but they can provide dedicated support and arrange for an educational mentor to meet with them once a week. I mention my concerns about social isolation and they are going to see if they can help with that too. We are going to work together to support them both. There's still a lot more to do but it feels like we're getting somewhere.
In the evening I have the opportunity to meet the residents in our hostel at their Young People's Forum. It is an informal event, and gives me the chance to introduce myself and have a chat with each of the young residents. Now that they know who I am I hope that they will feel more comfortable about approaching me with any welfare problems they may have. As Jenny's day illustrates the needs of the people who come to the Cardinal Hume Centre for help are varied. Last year 1,863 people visited the Centre. Your support can make sure that more people receive the advice and advocacy they need when facing difficult situations. Donate today and help turn someone's life around.