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The Benefits and Debt Advice Project

NHS helps thousands with benefits advice project

The Benefits & Debt Advice Project for Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea offers invaluable help and support to local people on a whole range of issues. HOT has been in contact with Project Manager Barry Cooper and is keen to spread the word of what this service offers to the community.

Over 17,000 people in East Sussex have been able to access £12m of benefits for which they didn’t know they were eligible for, or had been declined, thanks to The Benefits & Debt Advice Project, a service funded by the NHS.

GPs and social care workers can refer people, mainly with long term health problems, to a money helpline where they get advice on benefit entitlements and the claim process, or help to manage their debt better.

Approximately 73% of callers have long term problems with heart, lung, diabetes, depression and mobility issues the most common. Most people are helped over the phone but 20% need extra help and are referred to an expert service for a face to face consultation.

£5m of debt has been managed and organised into easier payments and 80% say their mental health and wellbeing has now improved.

Barry Cooper, Benefits and Debt Advice Project Manager, said: “We know people suffer as a consequence of being in financial crisis; money problems can have a serious, negative impact on people’s mental health conditions, including depression, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. Anybody can call the helpline, you do not have to be referred. If anyone has a query or concern about benefits they are already receiving, benefits that may have been stopped, or about benefits they may be entitled to, then please give us a call.

Benefits and Advice Project

Benefits and Advice Project

“Other people suffering from ill-health or who have a disability might need to apply for benefits, but don’t know what they can claim and lose out on money which could improve their health and wellbeing. People can then become depressed and isolated making their existing medical condition worse which may put extra pressure on the NHS.

“Lots of the personal stories we hear from clients are very distressing. We help people whose health is suffering through no fault of their own; we help using knowledge of what is an extremely complex benefits system and our support transforms and sometimes even saves lives.”

Thousands of benefit and debt queries have been dealt with by the service including help to access different types of benefits. Personal Independence Payment, Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit are the most common but others include: attendance and carers allowance, health care travel costs, blue badges, free hospital parking permits for cancer patients, disability and old age bus passes, council tax disability, carer and severe mental impairment discounts and McMillan cancer grants.

Many people using the advice line need help applying for the benefits and sometimes mistakenly believe they need to see the GP to fill in forms or want the GP to help them.

Barry added: “We are here to help people and to help the GPs. We can help to reduce the time GPs spend dealing with non-medical issues.”

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Case study of how the project has helped

George,  61, contacted the advice line and was referred to the expert service. George suffers from a number of severe long term mental and physical health conditions including cervical disc degeneration and spondylosis, osteoarthritis and depression.

George had recently been found fit for work by the DWP and had lost his benefits. The expert adviser helped George with benefit claims and he now receives an additional £280 in benefits each month and received back-dated benefits of £1,300. George received help to manage his debts and was provided with financial capability training. George was also being threatened with eviction by his landlord and the adviser helped to stop this by helping George obtain a housing payment from the council.

George lives in a top floor flat and struggles to cope with the stairs. The project supported George to apply to the council for more suitable accommodation and he has now been accepted onto a waiting list for a local sheltered housing scheme. George said: “I was on my back feeling suicidal. Without the help and support from the project, I know I wouldn’t be here now. I am much more positive about my future and my ability to cope.”

Advisers are based in different community settings and are also able to refer clients back to NHS services as clients often find they are only able to begin addressing health problems once their financial problems are under control.

Barry Cooper added: “We help people in lots of different ways. With our assistance people are now getting appropriate help to deal with various mental and physical health conditions. Our support has helped people to access NHS services that have further improved their health.

“The service also provides benefits and debt briefing and awareness sessions to health and social care services. In the last few months alone training has been provided to more than 650 staff, volunteers and residents including various NHS care, therapy and rehab groups, Adult Social Care older people’s services, council housing staff and foster carers.

People can contact the helpline on 0333 344 0681 or by emailing Benefits information and advice is available to all residents and professionals in the Hastings, Rother, Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford areas. Debt advice is available to people with long term health conditions living in the same areas.

Any health and social care professionals, voluntary and community services and groups, statutory and other support services wanting further information on the training and awareness or any other matters please contact Barry Cooper on 07977336610 or


Posted 15:32 Friday, Apr 27, 2018 In: Health Matters

1 Comment

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  1. Becky Polain

    Good article, but I need to point out that although the CCG funds this project, it is the mainly staff of Hastings Advice and Representation Centre that actually have been advising, assisting and representing clients, as well as carrying out the training! The NHS has helped through the funding via CCG, but they have not done any of the work.

    Comment by Becky Polain — Monday, Apr 30, 2018 @ 16:13

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