signpost to help and advice

Welfare and benefits advice service in the county set for funding boost

A much-valued service providing residents with help on welfare and benefits advice is set for a funding boost from the County Council. 

It follows a Health Needs Assessment (HNA) undertaken last year on the benefits and debt advice in Northumberland. It found that the service, funded by the Public Health team in the council, has given advice to 22,582 clients in the county in 2019/20, helping with 53,729 individual issues.    

Over a number of years, Northumberland County Council has funded Citizens Advice Bureau to deliver the free advice service, but demand has been so high in more recent times that around 50% of calls go unanswered.  

A report going to the council’s next Health and Wellbeing Board outlines a decision to increase funding of the core advice service and invest in county-wide capacity building. 

Planned investment will increase from £420,000 to £520,000 per year for the period of a new contract anticipated to start in October 2022. 

Glen Sanderson, Leader of Northumberland County Council said: “Considering all the evidence highlighted in the Health Needs Assessment, the decision has been made to increase funding to enable better provision of advice services in Northumberland. 

"Tackling Inequalities in Northumberland is one of our top three priorities so this will place more resources to help make a difference to those who most need our help. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic and the current rise in the cost of living, including food, fuel and energy bills, have led to an increase in the need for the services provided. We are working hard to ensure all our residents are supported and receiving all the help they are entitled to and providing advice is a key part of this. 

“We will closely monitor the demand on the service to identify any ongoing unmet need in the future, and we will work with the NHS and our other partners to secure additional investment.” 

In 2020 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published its data on unclaimed benefits from 2017-2018. Using these figures, it is estimated the value of unclaimed benefits in Northumberland could be as much as £31.8 million per year. 

Liz Morgan, Director of Public Health at Northumberland County Council said: “We want to make sure that people in Northumberland claim the benefits that they are legally entitled to.  Too many people are trying to make do on too low an income and we know there is a strong link between low income and poorer health for many reasons and that this will be widening the inequalities which already exist within the county.  

“By commissioning an advice service to provide benefits advice, we can improve health both directly and indirectly. This sort of service has been shown to lower stress and anxiety, improve mental health, and lead to better sleeping patterns, more effective use of medications, smoking cessation, and improved diet and physical activity. “ 
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