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14 May 2014

AM visits CHC's YBAC benefits advice line as part of her ‘week on benefits’

Mid and West Wales Assembly Member, Rebecca Evans AM, is spending the week living on the same benefit allowance as a job seeker. Throughout the week, she is meeting with people living on the benefits breadline, and the people who support them, in order to develop a better understanding of what people receiving benefits go through every week.

Mrs Evans visited a dedicated ‘Your Benefits Are Changing’(YBAC) advice line set up by Community Housing Cymru (CHC).

CHC’s dedicated advice line was set up in conjunction with their ‘Your Benefits Are Changing’ website and Facebook page to inform people about the changes in the way they receive and / or are eligible for benefits and to provide advice and support. The visit involved meeting and talking to advisors - who are members of Advice UK and the Institute of Money Advisors - to discuss the experiences of some of their callers and find out about the challenges they face. Mrs Evans described the experience as “a startling insight into the stark circumstances facing benefit claimants.”

CHC challenged AMs to ‘live off benefits’ for the week to highlight the YBAC campaign and develop an understanding of the day to day difficulties people experience. After deductions for utilities, phone, travel and other expenses, Mrs Evans was left with £13.58 for the week’s food and other expences.1

Commenting on her visit Mrs Evans said: “Speaking to the YBAC advisors it is clear to see that recent changes to benefits are hitting people really hard. The changes in the frequency of payments, for example, will mean that people will have to budget in a new way, and do so against a backdrop of ever rising costs. I heard about how sanctions against benefit claimants can make people destitute overnight, and how making payments to a single person in the household can mean that other people in that household have no financial independence at all.

“It was also telling that many of the people calling the advice line are now people in work who are struggling to make ends meet, even with a wage coming in.

“There are many myths and rumours circulating about benefit changes, and these are causing confusion and anxiety. If people are concerned about what they have heard, I strongly recommended to call the free independent advice line on 0300 303 0173, or text ‘change’ to 80018, like the Facebook page yourbenefitsarechanging, or visit the website www.yourbenefitsarechanging.co.uk. They can be sure to receive factual information and practical advice.”

Tanya MacGregor, Money Advisor with YBAC added: “It was great that Rebecca made time to visit the Your Benefits Are Changing (YBAC) helpline and wanted to know more about the issues people are facing as a result of benefit changes.

We have provided independent free advice to thousands of people affected by the changes, with calls coming from a wide range of people with 23 per cent of callers in work. Many people are affected by multiple changes and by calling the YBAC advice line we are able to work with them to provide much needed advice and support.”

According to CHC every £1 spent on advice provision, £6.50 has been saved for tenants. The YBAC advice team has given advice to over 7,500 people since the launch of the campaign where they have been able to work with callers to restructure budgets to manage £1.7m of non-priority debt, identified £1.3m of water related debt, helped almost 700 people claim a warm home discount and identified £390k of unclaimed benefits. While 55% of callers to the advice line are from Housing associations, 18% rent privately, 12% are Local Authority tenants and 15% are home owners.