Our services work together to improve outcomes for local people. Read some of our clients' stories here.
John's story: "Every time I come in you always help me out".
John, 67, came to Get Online to do a welfare benefits check as he was struggling to get by on his pension, most of which went on rent. Using an online benefits calculator, we established that he was entitled to Housing Benefit and Council Tax reduction. John revealed that he had been in receipt of both, but they had been stopped because he’d failed to respond to a letter asking for additional information. He was unable to read and there was no phone number on the letter he could call.
We helped John to submit a new application for both benefits online, and showed him how to check and organise the rest of his paperwork in a way he would find accessible. He was signposted to Read Easy, which provides a trained volunteer reading coach on a one to one basis, and signed up to the scheme. He returned to Get Online a few weeks later with a letter requesting supporting information; we helped him to scan the paperwork and submit it online.
John’s application was successful. He received a backdated award of £1377 and now receives £49.20 per week housing benefit, reducing his weekly rent to £28.47, leaving him with enough money from his pension to live on.
Gail's story: "You helped me to prove the misdiagnosis. I am now back on PIP and able to cope much better in my life."
Gail is 52 years old and suffers from significant physical disabilities following a near fatal brain aneurysm several years ago. Her mobility is severely restricted and she also suffers from incontinence and depression. Gail lives with her adult son, who has mental health problems.
When Gail was moved over from DLA to PIP, she was turned down following an assessment. The assessor did not seem to understand the severity of her brain injury. In addition, Gail has a tendency to play down her disability and say that she can cope better than she can due to embarrassment. Her doctor confirmed this in her medical evidence. She completed a Mandatory Reconsideration which was refused. Due to the drop in income, Gail had begun accrued debts, including rent arrears, making her anxious.
Gail came to North Bristol Advice Centre for help. Our SHARP caseworker supported her through the appeal process, including gathering supporting evidence and attending the tribunal hearing with Gail. Our debt adviser helped her to renegotiate her rent payment. Her rent arrears were written off in a DRO, along with her other debt, which the debt advisor facilitated, giving her a fresh start.
Gail’s appeal was successful. She was awarded the enhanced rate of both components, earning her £148.85 per week and a backdate of £6757. She was also entitled to the Motability component, meaning she can get a mobility scooter, which will make her much more independent.
Martin's Story: "It's nice when you can see a change in yourself"
Martin is 60 and has mild learning difficulties and physical health issues. He worked full time as a cleaner but used credit cards to supplement his income, racking up huge debts. Over the years he had used bankruptcy and debt relief orders to deal with his debts and had received debt advice five times. MoneySmart mentor Jenny worked one-to-one with Martin to help him track his income and expenditure, understand his spending, set up debt repayments, manage his money better and start saving. By the end of the year, Martin will be debt free with £500 in savings.
“When I look back at myself now, how long has it been? Over a year? When I first started I was all like nervous and panicky and never thought I’d ever get there. And I look back on myself now and I can see the changes.....And that’s just cos I’m managing (my money) better than before. You gave me more, like, confidence. It’s amazing that in a short time I could gain that sort of knowledge.
It’s nice when you can see a change in yourself. With your help and your support I just found I could manage things much better. I think it really gave me a lot of confidence because you always put things to me the right way. I understand when you tell me things and if I don’t understand, I ask you, and you explain it. I didn’t really understand how a credit card works. Every 5 months they used to send me a text and say we’ll give you £500 and you think, oh they’re being nice to me. And of course you start spending it coz you think...but they haven’t really given you that £500, they make you think they gave it to you. And once you start spending it, if you don’t pay that off in the month, then... Now I know how it works. I got thousands that come through my letter box and they’re going in the bin. Before I wouldn’t have done that.
You covered everything with me. You covered my bills, my rent, my council tax, my outgoings, my social life, you didn’t just cover one item. Now that £45 I can put it in the credit union. From now to May that’s a lot of money to save. You’ve been wonderful really.”
Sarah's Story: "I felt I'd come to the end of the road"
Sarah, 32, is a single mum with a disabled 8 year old son. She has Congenital Myotonic Dystrophy, a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. She worked until her condition deteriorated and she was retired on health grounds. Sarah applied for PIP but was awarded zero points. She lodged a Mandatory Reconsideration, but this was unsuccessful. Desperate, Sarah came to NBAC for help to appeal. Our caseworker Ruth helped Sarah prepare her documents, including medical evidence from her doctors, and accompanied her to tribunal. She was awarded the maximum rate for both components, totalling £141.10 a week.
“I lost my job back in May last year. I’d been working at the hospital but it was getting too much for me. They couldn’t find anything within the NHS that would suit my needs and my medication. I applied for PIP and at the assessment the nurse gave me points, but not very many. She didn’t know about my condition and didn’t understand it so she couldn’t see how it affects me. Then I got a letter saying I didn’t qualify, giving me zero points. They gave me points and then they took them off again so then I had none.
I submitted a Mandatory Reconsideration and the reassessment still said zero. The DWP just seemed to ignore all the points I made. I felt I’d come to the end of the road. We were lucky to find out about North Bristol Advice Centre. Coming here the first time, I felt Ruth could help because she knows about PIP. I think the way the information was presented to the authorities was very professional.
It was very quick in the court. They asked me a few questions and said we’re going to award you the higher rate daily living and the high rate mobility. We hadn’t asked for that, we didn’t have the nerve to ask for that. We were there 15 minutes and got the maximum award from zero.”
I really feel sorry for people who haven’t got access to support who qualify for PIP. I don’t think I would have got any money if we hadn’t had the advice.”
Arnold is 73 and lives with his 15 year old son in a council property. His wife had left him and he was struggling financially, as she was still working and paid the bills. His son had behavioural problems and learning difficulties and attended a special school.
Arnold had debts totally over £30,000 including significant rent arrears, Council Tax arrears, an Income Tax debt, Pension Credit over payment, plus multiple others. His main income was his state pension, from which deductions were being made towards council tax arrears and his pension credit overpayment. He was worried about losing his home. As Arnold was not eligible for a DRO, we advised him regarding Bankruptcy. He wanted to apply but he could not afford the fees. We referred him to our volunteer who helped look for a charity that would provide him with the fees and she was successful in raising the full amount. She also helped Arnold complete the online Bankruptcy form and it was approved.
Arnold’s income has now increased as he no longer has any deductions made to service his debts. His tenancy is no longer under threat.
Betty, 87, is a widow who lives alone. Her health and mobility had deteriorated in recent years and she had suffered numerous falls. She no longer drove her car as it wasn’t safe, and was reluctant to go out. She was housebound, had lost her independence and had become isolated and depressed.
Community Navigator Sarah visited Betty five times over 6 months. She helped her apply to the Bristol Community Transport Social Access scheme for help getting out and about. Betty decided to try the Shared Reading Group at the local Library. Betty loved discussing the short stories and poems and meeting other people. She keeps everything they’ve read as she sometimes reads it again later. Betty had been referred to Staying Steady classes by her GP, but she had given up attending. With transport now in place, Sarah encouraged Betty to revisit the classes.
Betty regularly attends the Shared Reading Group and Staying Steady. She has reduced the number of falls from 7 last year to 1 this year.
Henry is 72 and recently widowed. He was depressed and struggling to cope and was referred to CSAH by the district nurse.
The CSaH coordinator met Henry at home and helped him complete a financial statement. He was paying £13 per month for breakdown cover and travel insurance he didn’t need. They accompanied Henry to his bank to cancel this and order a new bank card as he did not have one. They helped him switch to a cheaper energy tariff (saving £200 per year), apply for Bristol Water pension credit tariff saving 20% and got the BT Basic phone package. Next, they helped Henry to set up a direct debit to pay for additional care and ordered a trial of meals on wheels. He did not like the food so he tried Wiltshire Farm Foods. Henry preferred this as he liked being able to choose his meals from their brochure.
Henry was signposted to bereavement counselling and referred to the Community Navigators project. He has since joined a local men-in-sheds group.
Sarah is 54 years old and lives in a council property with her 17 year old daughter. She had a stroke as a child and since then has had problems with the left-hand side of her body. She can barely use left arm and also has mental health issues. She recently had hip surgery, further reducing her mobility. Sarah depended on her Motability vehicle to get out and about as she struggles to walk and cannot use public transport.
Sarah had an assessment for PIP and was awarded the standard rate, meaning that whilst she received the same amount of money for her care needs, she was going to lose her vehicle. Under the new rules, Motability vehicles are only allowed if clients are awarded the Enhanced Rate. She lodged a mandatory reconsideration with the DWP but this was not successful.
Sarah came to NBAC for help to appeal this decision. We helped her understand the contents of the appeal documents, arranged her medical evidence and prepared her witness statement with her, which she found difficult due to her mental health problems. We also prepared written arguments in the form of a submission for the hearing. The appeal was successful and Sarah was awarded the enhanced rate for both care and mobility components. She was able to keep her vehicle.
"I have to say your offices are fantastic in the help and support you provide. It feels like someone is on your side in the exhausting process the powers that be put claimants through. I am genuinely thankful you provided help and support to me in what has been a very difficult time over the months past."
Bill had to stop work due to experiencing Mental Health issues. He had lost confidence and was feeling anxious about returning to work. Interested in exploring volunteering as a first step, he attended the Connect Lockleaze course ‘Introduction to Volunteering’ held at The Langley Centre. Soon after, Bill decided to volunteer for North Bristol Advice Centre.
As a result of his volunteering experience, Bill decided he would like to look for work in the voluntary sector. Buzz Employability signposted him to a community Mental Health outreach group that offered peer support and Pluss (Work Choice programme) which offers in-work support and paid traineeships to people with disabilities. Buzz and Pluss worked together to support Bill into a paid 6 month traineeship with North Bristol Advice Centre. He is receiving in-work support through Pluss to ensure any issues or worries are resolved quickly and continues to attend the Buzz Employability drop-in to find work when the traineeship ends.
‘My life has changed due to my volunteering and subsequent Traineeship offer. I feel wanted and appreciated and valued…and feel more responsible for myself and others.”
Claire is in her early 50's and had had breast cancer twice. She lived with her partner, who was also her carer, in local authority accommodation in a three bedroomed property. Radiotherapy had burnt one lung leaving Claire with breathing difficulties. Chemotherapy had affected her bones resulting in osteoarthritis. She also had chronic fatigue syndrome as a result of the medication.
Claire’ ESA had stopped following an assessment. We advised her to claim PIP and request a Discretionary Housing Payment. We helped Claire to appeal the ESA decision. PIP was refused so we helped Claire to appeal this decision. During this time, Clair’s cancer had returned and she needed another operation and further treatment.
The ESA appeal was allowed and Claire was placed in the support group. She received an additional weekly sum and did not have to undergo work related activity, allowing her to concentrate on her recovery.
The PIP appeal was also allowed. The Tribunal decided that the Claire should receive the standard rate Daily Living component and the enhanced rate for the Mobility component.
This resulted in an increased income of over £100 per week.
Clive is 42, has a mild learning disability, a spinal condition and has spent some time in prison. When his catering van went out of business he met one-to-one with a Buzz Employability adviser and together they came up with an action plan to help Clive get back into paid work. Clive felt he had lost his confidence and wanted to update his skills, complete a CV, identify jobs and complete application forms. He completed the L2 Food Hygiene course with Connect Lockleaze, who also supported him with reading and writing. Through Buzz he was able to find a volunteering role at Bristol Wood Recycling Project.
Clive revealed that he was depressed and was £10,000 in debt. He was signposted to North Bristol Advice Centre for debt advice and successfully applied for a DRO, leaving him debt-free. Buzz also referred him to the Art Wellbeing course and the Time to Talk event at the Buzz Cafe where he met others experiencing Mental Health issues and received advice from a Mental Health specialist.
Clive reported that his mood and confidence had increased and he started to take greater care in his appearance. He applied for a job as a catering assistant and was successful at securing full time paid work.
Mona is 60 years old and recently widowed. She came to NBAC suffering from depression and anxiety over how she was going to cope with daily life without her husband as she was struggling to run a large house on a small income. Our welfare benefits adviser helped her to apply for ESA and signposted her to Community Support at Home (CSaH).
Our CSaH coordinator met Mona at her home and helped her complete a financial statement. They identified that her outgoings were higher than her incomings and looked at reducing her household costs. They helped Mona to stop her gym membership, which she was not using, cancelled the landline (she was receiving a high volume of nuisance calls) and changed her mobile phone contract to include more data and a new handset with a larger screen she could see better. They also applied for the Warm Home Discount, taking £140 off of Mona’s electricity bill, and helped her to search for a new car insurance online, saving her over £200.Mona was signposted to bereavement counselling with Cruse and Lift Psychology. Soon after she started our Basic Skills IT Course.
Mona is better off financially and emotionally. She is really enjoying learning new skills and meeting new people.
Terry is a 59 year old widower suffering from poor health and depression who is unable to read or write. He attended debt drop-in for help with rent arrears on his 3 bedroom house, which had built up after his wife died. Our adviser helped him to apply for a discretionary housing payment and contacted rent management to arrange an appropriate repayment amount.
Terry was then signposted to MoneySmart for one-to-one mentoring, including completing a budget, where it was identified he could apply for PIP. A Welfare Benefits volunteer helped Terry to fill in a PIP application form. He wanted to move to a smaller property but did not have internet at home to get onto the Home Choice website. He was referred to the MoneySmart Online drop-in where volunteers helped him to access the Home Choice website and submit his application.
Terry was successful in both his benefits applications. He is now happily living in his new one bedroom flat, debt free and with more disposable income.
Doris is a single woman in her 50s and suffering from ill health. She was contacted by her local authority and told they were removing her Single Occupier Discount as they believed another person was living at the property.
This was based on information they gathered via an Experian Credit check of the property. This caused Doris a great deal of distress and anxiety as it meant she would have to pay council tax arrears amounting to £1600. The only way she could get the money was to sell her home.
Doris lived alone, but had allowed an old friend to use her house as a mailing address. She was happy to do so as he would always stop for a cup of tea and a chat when he collected his post. We helped her appeal against this decision but were unsuccessful. We decided to take her case to the Valuation Tribunal.
The local authority contacted us prior to the hearing and advised that they had reviewed the evidence and decided, on the balance of probability, this other person was not living at the address.
Doris's Single Occupier Discount was reinstated for the entire period.
Robert, who is in his mid forties, was diagnosed with cancer. As a result he had to have his leg amputated. He was unable to use a prosthetic limb or a wheelchair as he cannot sit comfortably and is in constant pain.
He was required to attend a Work Capability Assessment because he was claiming for Employment Support Allowance. He was classified as fit for work and put into a work related activity group requiring him to attend work focused interviews at the job centre. He was extremely distressed by this decision. We helped him to appeal the decision and wrote a detailed letter to ESA, explaining Robert's situation.
Two weeks later, we had a telephone call from ESA saying they were reconsidering their decision. Within hours, we were notified that ESA had reinstated Robert's claim and put him into the Support Group for 3 years.
This acknowledged that Robert had such severe health problems there was no current prospect of his being able to undertake work or work-related activities.