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In order to be as proactive and helpful as possible, we have a financial hardship fund to support customers who may particularly struggle with their bills. In 2022/23, we invested £69,298 which was used for: 

  • applying to local furniture re-use charities to provide much needed furniture and white goods 
  • working with local food banks and helping vulnerable customers buy food from supermarkets 
  • providing gas and electric energy top-ups.  

We’ve also supported and worked with you to access benefits you may have been entitled to but not aware of. We accessed a total of £577,703 in benefits, helping many of our customers boost their household incomes as a result. We received 2,954 customer referrals – an increase of 26% on the previous year – and were in contact with customers on 18,368 occasions.  

Our customer stories: Jason  

Jason is a 48-year-old man who lives with a mental health condition. He receives Universal Credit (UC) and the lowest level of the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP). In 2019 he suffered a severe stroke, which left him with breathing issues and partial paralysis. Whilst he received full housing cost through UC, he had to pay 10% of his council tax, and had some rent due.  

Jason contacted us for help with his PIP, and we helped his PIP to be re-awarded at the highest possible rate, an increase of £95.85 each week. This was backdated by 12 months, earning him a lumpsum of £3,740, which he used to clear his rent payments.   

Whilst doing the PIP we noted his UC had not been re-assessed in 2019 as he had requested. We followed up and secured him a UC increase of £389.70 per month. Jason also no longer has to pay any council tax. We are working on a backdate for the UC which, if successful, will give Jason a back payment of over £14,500 in UC, along with a refund in council tax.   

Our customer stories: Alison  

Alison is a single mum who has two disabled children under the age of seven. She was transferred into a three-bed house from a two-bed flat to allow the children to have separate rooms. Unfortunately, due to complex rules around children under 10 sharing, Alison was subject to a 14%-bedroom tax. This reduced her housing benefit by £18 per week, leading to her falling behind with rent payments.  

Alison had tried claiming disability living allowance for both children, and we were able to help her successfully appeal a claim for the older child and submit a claim for the younger child. These successes allowed her to claim a carers allowance, which was important as she would have otherwise been expected to look for work when the younger child reaches the age of five.  

The successes also meant the bedroom tax was removed and child tax credits were increased. The total rise in the family’s weekly income was worth an additional £222.65 per week. The appealed disability living allowance provided Alison with a further backdated sum of £2,400. Alison was able to clear her rent payments and can focus on caring for her two children. 

 Our into work service  

Within our financial wellbeing team, we offer an into work service that supports any customer who would like help with finding work, a change of career, and/or adding to their existing skills. We’ve partnered with The Digital College to provide online courses covering a range of topics including Word, Excel, Customer Service and others to support you to gain employment. We also work closely with local partners who provide additional support and who we can refer you to.  

Our into work officer worked closely with customers to achieve 267 successful outcomes, which included 167 training courses completed and saw 67 customers improve their access to the internet.  

Our customer stories: Graham  

Graham was referred to our into work officer by our financial wellbeing team in April 2022. He’d previously completed a housing benefit appeal and received budgeting advice but was aware he’d be financially better off in work.   

Graham had some great skills but needed some support with building his confidence and matching his skills to a career path. He was given help from our officer with job searching and applications, which led to an interview invite.  We completed a mock interview with him, going through potential questions that could come up and how he could answer those, giving him confidence.    

Graham told us: “I got the job!! The mock interview was a game changer. Being out of work or in the wrong job can feel like a hopeless place. Aster’s employment service provided both the practical and personal support to get to the next stage.” 

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