Friend with Benefits

9 July 2019 | West and South West England

Nick Leaman from Talking Money with pensioners Kathleen and Emlyn Doughty

Charity helps people with financial advice on everything from debt and benefits to fraud.

He might not wear a red cape. But Nick Leaman is a superhero who makes a life-changing difference to the people he helps.

Nick is a benefits case worker for the financial advice charity Talking Money in Bristol. He helps people who find themselves victims of fraud or who may be struggling with debts and don’t know where to turn.

And he helps people access the benefits they are entitled to, with free specialist advice and ongoing support when they need it most.

Pensioners Kathleen and Emlyn Doughty are both disabled and struggle to get out. Many aspects of the tech revolution have passed them by, and neither of them know how to use a computer.

It meant they struggled when they tried to apply for the right level of disability benefit, and started to fall behind with their rent. With Emlyn recovering from bowel and lung cancer and Kathleen facing a major foot operation, they needed all the help they could get.

Nick made multiple visits to their home and sorted everything out for them. The couple could not be more grateful. “Nick is a hero to us,” says Emlyn, 77. “He comes over and immediately puts you at ease. He knows exactly what to say and is so knowledgeable.

“I am from the old school, and to understand something I need it in my hand. I don’t even know how to switch a computer on. But everything is online these days. I can’t even print out a form. We are just relieved that Nick came over and explained everything to us and help us out.”

The majority of Nick’s work is through face to face consultations in Bristol and the surrounding area. “Older people are missing out because they can’t navigate online. I do feel compassion for them. They suffer from a lack of knowledge and access to information. Many of the best deals are online too so they miss out in that way too.”

Where they can he and the rest of his team will actually work with those interested and willing to learn how to use a computer.

But the majority of people Nick works with are of working age. “It used to be the case that they had racked up huge credit card debts. But it has changed. The issues are now that they are struggling to pay rent and utility bills because they just don’t have the funds. Often they are in work, but they don’t get given enough hours or just not being paid enough.

"Or it might be the case they are facing financial crises because of unexpected life changes, such as relationship break-up, redundancy and bereavement.

“It is also scary how much fraud is out there and how many people get scammed.

Fraudsters are getting increasingly confident and can be so convincing. I had one lady who received a text saying she owed thousands to HMRC. It was a con, but she almost fell for it and was going to pay even though she was barely able to afford her rent. The problem is that if you are desperate you are more likely to fall for scams like this because you just don’t think sensibly.”

Despite the enormous demand on him, Nick loves his work.

“It can be stressful but it is also really fulfilling because you are here to help people. Even if you can improve their lives just a little, that can make a huge difference to them. For others it can be life-changing.”

Over the last year the charity has received more than 6,400 enquiries and helped more than 4,670 people with advice and casework.

They have also secured £1.3m for vulnerable low-income households by identifying and applying for additional benefits they’re entitled to, including appealing negative decisions around housing benefit, sickness and disability benefits and Universal Credit.

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