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2020-09-02 10.07.22 1

A (3 day) week in the life of an Outreach Adviser

My name is Philippa - as one of Reach’s Community Outreach Advisers, I help people who find themselves in a crisis to get their lives back on track. Many of the families that I work with are struggling with debts, for all sorts of reasons – and the stress has a really detrimental impact on them. So I welcome the opportunity to be able to help them with food, accessing benefits, getting on top of debt and more. 

My week is never the same - but here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been involved with over a few days this month: 
 

Monday 

The first part of my morning is catching up on emails and texts. I receive a lovely message from a lady thanking us for helping her. Things started to go wrong for her when she lost her job due to Covid-19 and the bills started to mount up. Fortunately she came to us before her debts got too high, so she should be clear of them very soon, which is great news! She had got behind with her utility bills, and because her problems were caused by Covid-19 I was able to access a Covid-19 Fund to help reduce the arrears. She had also been renting a cooker and washing machine for £44 a month, but I was able to help her get a cooker and washing machine through the Local Welfare Assistance, which will  really help her balance her finances.  

Another email is from a creditor, agreeing a payment plan we’ve just set up for another client which is great news! This client ended up in debt because he is self-employed and couldn’t work during lockdown. As part of setting up a Debt Management Plan for him, we’ve helped him negotiate manageable payments that he is happy with, so we’re just waiting for the creditors to agree them - this creditor is the first to respond. Once we have heard from them all and our client has set up standing orders for the payments he should be able to manage his debts himself, although we are always at the end of the phone if he needs further help or clarification.  

Late morning; I have a look at our Referral list as I have capacity to take on another couple of clients. One lady has a letter stating that her social landlord is going to get a possession order so this needs to take priority as we will do everything we can to try and prevent her losing her home. When I phone, I discover that the lady lost someone close to her late last year, so of course she’s been battling grief as well as debts. I find that the arrears have managed to get significantly higher than usual, which is due to court action being put on hold because of Covid-19.  It always amazes me how fast arrears can build up in just a few months. At Reach, we have managed to stop countless evictions by negotiating repayments or applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the arrears but sadly, it may be too late for us to prevent it this time. The lady gives me the paperwork for her other debts to sort through as it is just too much for her to manage on her own. I hope that she feels a little better from just being able to share the burden of sorting through what is owed where and knowing that we will be able to help her look at the options she has, to deal with the debt. I agree to pop round in the afternoon to get some consent forms signed so I can contact her landlord and end up stopping for a chat (whilst wearing a mask). 
 

Tuesday 

The day starts with a prayer meeting and then a Team Meeting. I am always encouraged to hear other team members’ stories about the progress they have made on cases and the funding that supporters have generously donated to enable us to help clients who are facing some really tough times.  

In the afternoon I phone a client to check how her Universal Credit application is going. The family came to us when mum lost her job after having been on furlough. She had heard on the grapevine that she should avoid going onto Universal Credit and stay on tax credits, however the family weren’t getting enough to live on. I completed a benefits check online which showed she would be significantly better off on Universal Credit. So she decided to switch to Universal Credit and I helped her complete the application. We supported the family with food boxes and put some money on their gas and electricity during the five week wait. I log on to the lady’s Universal Credit account and see that the application has been successful and that she will receive her first payment in three days, which is great news! She’s accrued a lot of debts during Covid-19 and we are in the process of contacting the creditors to establish how much money she owes them. The family’s preference would be for us to go down the route of a Debt Relief Order which will wipe out most of the debt. Itlooks to me like they have come to us in time for this still to be an option, but had they left it a few more months the debts may have been too high.  
 

Wednesday 

Today is my ‘Duty Day’, taking phone calls for people needing to use the food bank. We get such a wide range of people coming to us for help, many of whom have never had to use a food bank before and are embarrassed at having to do so. So many people’s finances are so precarious that one little thing can tip them into a financial crisis – their boiler breaks down, they have a temporary job that suddenly ends, or they develop a long-term illness and have to go onto sick pay which is a lot lower than their income would normally be. I reassure them that helping them is what we are here for and that anybody could easily end up in the position of having to ask for help. The most heart-breaking cases for me are where people have gone days without food before asking. We never want anybody to go hungry! When people phone we talk to them about their situation so that we see whether there are any benefits or bill reductions they are entitled to that they aren’t receiving or whether we can help in any other way - for example, if they need help to get something essential like a cooker or fridge or have no money for gas/electricity.  

I end the week on a positive note by speaking to a client, who I am near the end of the debt process with. She confirms she would like a Debt Relief Order - but it will cost £90 which she doesn’t have.  So I apply to another charity we work with, called Acts 435 where people will donate the money to pay for it. Very soon she will be debt free! 
  


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Is this the calm before the storm?  

We’ve continued to help many local people with food, Universal Credit applications, debt and more. So far, things have been calmer than we feared. But the next few months could see unemployment rates triple and a surge of debt like we’ve never known.
 


During lockdown, with our staff mainly home based, we’ve continued to help local people with food, Universal Credit applications, debt and more. Over the summer holidays, more families will need food parcels although not as many as we’d feared, thanks to Marcus Rashford persuading the government to extend their school meals voucher scheme. That was really welcome news!

But food parcels are really only a temporary fix.  They don’t solve the underlying issue, which is often debt. And helping people get on top of debt is why I started Reach in 2005. Debt robs people of hope – it leaves them feeling trapped, powerless, and dreading that knock at the door or the phone to ring… it’s exhausting and depressing, and it can put you on a downward spiral that it’s really hard to escape from.

We’ve helped hundreds of families to successfully rise above debt over the years. And in the coming months, we’re gearing up to help more than ever before.

Because as the economy shrinks and furloughed workers are laid off, we believe we’re going to see a storm of personal debt the likes of which we’ve never known. It will affect people from all walks of life, all levels of society, even those who’ve always been ‘successful’.

It could affect anyone. It could affect YOU. It may be affecting you already.
 

REACH is here to help ANYONE that’s struggling – including you.

If you’re struggling with debt or know you soon will be because your income is reducing and isn’t going to cover your outgoings - please, please get in touch NOW!


Don’t put it off until you get into real difficulties. The earlier you ask us for help, the better we’ll be able to help you to weather the storm and get your life back on track.

If you know someone else who may soon be losing their income – please forward this information to them.  We don’t want anyone to struggle when there may be something we can do to help.

 

Call us 01440 712950 or email info@reachhaverhill.org.uk.

For a more detailed timeline on local need and our response, click here.

24/06/2020
 
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We Won!! 

“Well, who would have believed it? - We actually won the Hopkins Homes Suffolk Vote! That’s an amazing £7000 for Resource Centre refurbishment project!  Thank you for taking the time to vote for us, it means a lot.  We really didn’t expect to win, but even if we hadn’t, we’ve had such fun with the social media campaign, and so to win was a massive bonus!
 
Thank you also to Josh Hopkins from Hopkins Homes and Andrea Pittock from the Suffolk Community Foundation who came across to the Resource Centre to make the presentations to us and the runners up - Ipswich Housing Action Group and Halesworth Volunteer Centre.  Any one of the 7 charities could have won it as all are doing amazing work across the county, so thank you very much for your continued support - we really do appreciate it!” 
 

Hopkins Cheque small

Henry Wilson, 23/03/2018

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Reaching out into the Community - One Year On 

Tina and Jo smallAs early as 2014 at Reach we were aware of barriers to our services, especially anyone living in the villages.  From time to time we would receive a call from a Doctor’s surgery or a family support worker in Clare or Linton asking if we might be able to help a patient or a family they were assisting.  Our resources at the time dictated that our work was centred on Haverhill, not exclusively, but if you needed help and from a village, it generally meant coming in to see us at the Resource Centre on the Clements Estate in Haverhill.
 
By 2015 we began to dream of satellite centres in partnership with a local church in that community.  Following the launch of ‘The Hidden Needs Report’ by Suffolk Community Foundation in September 2016, highlighting the growth in rural poverty in Suffolk it was time to act.  With some initial funding from the ONE Haverhill Partnership we launched our Reach into the Community project in January 2017, essentially carrying out home visits.
 
The project has grown and although not running satellite centres yet, we appointed Jo Goodhall for the Haverhill and Stour Valley area and Tina Rice for the South Cambs corridor (see Tina’s piece below).
 
Well, one year on we now have updated our statistics for the year and these make interesting reading!
 

  • Throughout 2016 we fed 43 people from rural areas around Haverhill from the foodbank.  In 2017 we fed 145 people in the rural areas!
  • In 2016 rural areas amounted to just 4% of the people helped by Haverhill foodbank, it now stands at 10%
  • More than £1500 of client aid has been distributed through Acts 435 as well many other services including debts, form completion and general support 


Naturally we are delighted with the impact that Reach into the Community is having in the rural areas, we do have a great team and that includes the volunteers that accompany Jo & Tina on their home visits.  If you too would like to accompany Jo or Tina on any of their home visits, please do get in touch with the office on 01440 712950 or info@reachhaverhill.org.uk  Thank you.
 

Henry Wilson, 01/03/2018

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