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The Information, Advice & Advocacy team at Staywell supported over 1,500 people in the year April 2014-March 2015. A free specialist service, it offers information and support to older people, their families and carers in Kingston; the only service of its kind in the borough.
But in our digital age, why is such a service so important, and why do Staywell say more people need this support than ever before?
‘Many older people and their families don’t realise that they are entitled to financial support which can really make a huge difference to their lives,’ says service manager Jo Hulton.
DWP research shows that about a third of those eligible for Pension Credit are not claiming it, especially those who own their own home as they are less likely to be in contact with their local authority. Other entitlements such as Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit are also left unclaimed by many.
The team spend a lot of their time helping people check what benefits and services they are eligible for and supporting them to apply for anything they are missing out on. This is known as ‘income maximisation’.
In the last year alone, Staywell’s team supported its clients to maximise their incomes by over £680,000, helping them pay their bills, heat their homes and have a better quality of life.
‘I am proud and lucky to live in the place where Staywell provides such a good service,’ wrote one client. ‘In a time when the cost of fuel is increasing additional resources are really appreciated.’
Confidential and impartial advice is given over the phone via the First Contact advice line and face-to-face on a wide range of issues. If a visit to someone’s home is required the team, supported by a group of trained volunteer advisors, will come to you. If they can’t help directly the team will do their utmost to find someone who can. ‘It was so reassuring,’ said a recent client. ‘They have taken much of my worries and stress away.’
Staywell’s expert advisors help people deal with a whole range of issues and problems, and enable them to make informed choices. People also trust the advisors to support them with disputes, such as appeals against benefit decisions or challenging an inaccurate gas bill. As one client described, ‘It had taken us nearly a year to try and solve this problem. She did it in a few months.’
‘How do we know the service is important?’ says Jo Hulton, ‘Because the clients tell us what a difference it makes.’
‘It is a fantastic job that you do,’ wrote one. ‘It would be so difficult to fill in that form – and impossible for those who don’t have any help.’
2015 is the 15th continuous year that Staywell’s service has been awarded The Advice Quality Standard (AQS). The only advice-specific, independently audited quality standard in the voluntary sector, it endorses the professionalism of the service and the accuracy of the information and advice given. The most recent audit carried out in January 2014 affirmed the 100% positive feedback Staywell receives in client surveys.
What really makes clients come back again and again is the friendly, caring service provided by the team. ‘He is exactly how I imagined him to be,’ wrote one client, visited recently by one of the volunteer members of the team. ‘Calm, focused, polite and a gentleman.’