Benefit of good advice
9 July 2019 | North East England
How community centre team is helping people break the debt cycle.
The people Steven Swales and his team help are often living on fine margins.
And it can take something as mundane as a faulty boiler or unexpected bill to tip them over the edge.
Steven is the senior advisor at the Beverley Cherry Tree Community Centre, where he leads a team of volunteers offering help and support to people in Beverley and East Yorkshire facing financial difficulties.
Some may be struggling with debt, and others are unable to access benefits they are entitled to.
Steven says: “Unfortunately, by the time many people come and see me, they are at the end of their tether and don’t know what to do or where to turn.
“They come here, and they are often in tears. I do my best to help them. If that means filling a form, I’ll do it, but I will take an issue as far as tribunal if necessary.”
People in need of help are referred by agencies such as Citizen’s Advice or the Jobcentre. Others hear about the service from their GP, or through word of mouth.
They may be struggling after losing a job, or through a change in circumstances such as illness, bereavement, or a relationship ending.
Steven says: “It doesn’t take much to push people over the edge. It takes just one hiccup, and suddenly you have lost your job, your income and can’t pay your rent.”
The Centre provides a free confidential service, making sure people are aware of their rights and entitlements. They focus in particular on debt and bankruptcy, and also help with employment issues.
Many volunteers are retired, and bring a lifetime of knowledge and experience to help others.
They pride themselves on the motto: “When you don’t know where to turn we can help you or find someone who can!”
Steven specialises in welfare rights so gives advice on disability benefits, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit, Attendance Allowance, redundancy pay and maternity benefits.
For many it’s a minefield that without expert guidance, they would find impossible to navigate.
Steven, 58, says: “I had a chap in his 30s recently who had MS, and had to leave work. He was refused disability benefit, so I wrote a letter for him. He was turned down again. I took it to tribunal and eventually won. It was ridiculous, as he should have just had received the benefit in the first place.”
The impact of the Centre’s work is clear to see, especially if you take a look into Steven’s office, where his desk is covered with rows of thank you cards from people he and the team have been able to help.
They are a fraction of the hundreds of notes he has received over the years, and he says: “When we get a plan in place people tend to feel so relieved, like a huge burden has been lifted from them.”