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Shelter Cymru sponsorship feature

Taking advice to people in the workplace

Adam Golten, Work It Out project officer at Shelter Cymru

Shelter Cymru’s Work It Out project was established in March 2010 with the aim of supporting people in work who were experiencing problems with housing or money management issues.

We knew anecdotally through our case work that many people mistakenly thought that they weren’t entitled to free independent advice if they were in employment.

We also knew that people in employment were less likely to be linked in to a network of support or help services in the same way as groups more widely recognised as being ‘vulnerable’, such as care leavers, single parents or people with disabilities.

Yet, due to the recession, which resulted in many people losing their jobs or having to work reduced hours, and public spending cuts that affected benefits and tax credits, increasing numbers of people in work were getting into difficulties with their mortgage or rent and were potentially at risk of losing their homes.

Work It Out is unique in Wales in that it has been designed to promote independent housing and debt advice services to people in the workplace, through their employers’ or trade bodies’ health and well-being strategies.

Funded by the Welsh Government through its Homelessness Grant programme, the project’s overarching aim is to prevent homelessness by early intervention.

Links to our comprehensive Advice Online resource have been embedded into staff intranets and union websites, including Swansea, Bridgend, and Caerphilly county borough councils, Cwm Taf Health Board, PCSU, TUC, UNISON, Unite, Admiral, McAllister and Co., RCT Business Club, Burtons and British Red Cross.

In April this year, our funding was extended, which enabled us to focus on widening the reach of the project by increasing the number of businesses and organisations we work with and providing more direct face to face advice with people in the workplace.

Since then, we have held successful housing surgeries within both new and existing partner companies, including Wilkinson, John Lewis, Tesco House, Avana Bakeries, Burtons Biscuits and RM Brookes. Following the response from staff, the latter three companies have agreed to hold regular surgeries as they believe that the more visible we are the more employees will engage with the project.

Most recently, Centrica have agreed to place Advice Online on their new intranet, which covers all Centrica owned companies across Wales as well as each individual organisation’s intranet, while talks are currently underway with Admiral about how we can help them support staff who might be facing housing or debt problems after a successful trial of the project last year.

Across all surgeries we have advised people who would previously not otherwise have sought advice. A number of these have been taken on as Shelter Cymru clients, while others were advised on welfare issues or redirected to other relevant support agencies, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Resulting from this need for people to be referred onto other advice agencies, we have started a new and exciting partnership with Caerphilly CAB’s BABL project (Better Advice for Better Lives Tackling Poverty in Wales), which runs in Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire.

The BABL project is aimed at all-round advice and increasing household incomes through benefits checks work as a key first step in identifying any unclaimed benefits.

Through this we can directly refer anyone in need of benefit assistance who cannot be assisted through Work It Out. This removes the need for appointments, speeding up the help people receive in these areas.

In return the project officers will identify opportunities for us to engage with employers in these counties through contact they have with clients.

From these links we have had 198 referrals since April 2012 alone. It should be noted that it is impossible to accurately track all referrals from these links as some of our partners use systems that do not allow us to track where the referrals have come from. This number also does not include those employees who check Advice Online at home so it’s likely that the true figure is higher again.

It is clear that Work It Out has filled a need in reaching out to people who might otherwise have been left struggling. The backing of employers and unions has been crucial in achieving this and those organisations that have got involved in the project are to be commended for their forward-looking approach to supporting their staff during difficult times. Our aim now is to build on the existing links and develop new partnerships to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the essential advice they need to avoid losing their home.

For more information on Work It Out, email [email protected]

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