A Welfare Rights Officer
Hi, my name is Cordelia and I`m a Welfare Rights Officer for a local council.
My role is to help people understand what benefits and tax credits they may be able to claim, to help them complete the claim forms, and to sort out any problems with their claims.
I am part of a team of Welfare Rights Officers. I work with anyone who lives in the area, but some of my colleagues specialise in working with particular groups of people. Two of my colleagues work specifically with people with cancer and their families.
When someone becomes ill it can cause a lot of financial problems. Patients are likely to need to take time off work, or to take a break from studying. Family members may also need to take time off work in order to provide care. At the same time, they are likely to have extra expenses such as higher heating bills or the cost of travelling to hospital.
The first thing I do when I meet a client is find out about their situation. I will ask things like who they live with, what income each member of the family has and what their housing costs are. I will also ask how their illness and treatment is affecting them, for example are they very tired etc. All these things affect which benefits they can qualify for.
One of the main benefits is called Disability Living Allowance. This is worth up to £131 per week (*highest care and mobility component April 2012) and is paid to the person who is unwell. Disability Living Allowance is not linked to your income or savings – for example David Cameron`s disabled son Ivan qualified for it. Another benefit called Carer`s Allowance can be paid to carers.
There are also several benefits to help people on low incomes, such as Employment and Support Allowance for people who are not able to work.
The next step is to help clients complete claim forms. Even people who are usual very capable can struggle with claim forms for Disability Living Allowance. This is because the form asks people to describe what they are struggling with, and most people try to put a brave face on their difficulties! As I tell my clients, if I meet someone in town and they ask me how I am, I always say I`m fine, even if I`m not! Going through the form with an advisor can help people give a more accurate picture of how they really feel.
With a clients’ permission, I can also contact their doctors etc to get supporting evidence for claims. Despite this, sometimes a claim is turned down. If this happens and we think the decision is wrong, we can help the person appeal to an independent tribunal. The tribunals will look at all the evidence, including listening to the applicant and their carer, and are usually very good at reaching the right decision.
Clients often stay in touch for long periods, as their circumstances may change from time to time. For example, as the person recovers they may want to return to work and I can discuss the different options such as working part time and how this would affect their benefits
Although I currently work for the local authority, in the past I have done a similar work for Citizens Advice, and for a local disability charity. Welfare Rights Officers can have a range of backgrounds. In my office some people have worked for the Jobcentre, some are from Social Services and some were volunteer advisors with different charities before getting paid work. What we have in common is a detailed knowledge of the benefits system, backed up by regular training and a real desire to help people.
I love my job, and I`m always really pleased when I can help someone get the income they need to make life a bit easier, or to save them from having to worry about the bills.
I would encourage anyone who is living with cancer to get benefits advice. There are local services in every part of the country which are free, confidential and willing to help.
Most benefits can only be backdated for limited periods, or not at all, so ask for help as soon as possible!
Best wishes, Cordelia