from left: Peter Patton, team manager, Julia Watts, team leader and Nigel Wicks, case worker
Claiming benefits is not an easy task at the best of times, and dealing with the paperwork for dozens of users can be an even greater challenge. Every year, millions of pounds go unclaimed because people don’t know what to do, so the Regard Partnership, a residential care and supported living provider, was keen to help its service users obtain what was rightfully theirs. It set up what it believes is the first team to help maximise the money their users can claim.
Peter Patton helped create the team four years ago, and is now the manager of the three-strong group (they are recruiting to expand). Having worked in the Department of Work and Pensions for 34 years, he says: “I’m in the same arena but on the other side of the benefit counter – the gamekeeper turned poacher.
“The directors of Regard recognised that they could do better for their service users in claiming benefits. Care managers, support workers and clients were all muddling along. The benefits team was set up as a centralised, more cohesive unit.”
As a corporate appointee to the DWP, Regard can claim on behalf of those who agree to let them do so. Patton says: “Clients often come to us with no benefits at all. More often they have some benefits but they are only part of what the scheme can offer them. Quite often they are coming out of a residential care placement into supported living, and the benefits are massively different.”
The team have created a win-win situation for the partnership and its users. The service users pay for the cost of their care from the benefits, and that money serves as a cashflow into the company. Finding unclaimed benefits for users also means that they often have more disposable income to spend. The team are currently claiming just over £100,000 a week on behalf of the users.
Regard provides residential and supported living services for people with learning disabilities and acquired brain injuries, and the benefits team is currently helping 450 people across the country. Handling so many cases means the team has very little interaction with them; instead, local care managers refer cases.
Una Burton is the manager of Ravenscroft House in Southampton, which provides supported living for seven adults with learning disabilities. “When somebody moves into the house, I automatically inform Peter. The forms are sent to me, I complete them with the user, and Peter deals with them.”
Whereas Burton used to be sent cheques, the team now has the benefits paid directly into users’ accounts. It also often finds ways to increase the benefits they can claim. She says this has made life easier for her, and has given users more disposable income. “It gives them so much independence. Two went to the Jim Davidson show, they go on holiday, they do their shopping, and pay for their taxis if the house car isn’t available.”
The team also helps people to claim back arrears, although that can only be done where there has been a mistake made by the benefits office in the past. This is where the experience of team members can really help.
Patton says: “We took on the benefits for about 53 users in supported tenancy schemes in a company we acquired. At the time we began the work, the benefits income per week was just over £6,000. When we finished the work some 18 months later, the income was £10,000. We achieved over £200,000 of benefits arrears for that group, and the biggest individual case got over £21,000.”
The team’s niche work is possible because of Regard’s size, and Patton warns that people need training to be able to maximise benefits claims; all of his department are ex-DWP staff.
“We know the issues, we know what to look for, we know what to recognise, we know the triggers in front of us. It’s like Who Wants to be a Millionaire – it’s easy if you know the answers.”
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