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:
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).
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.
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!