Hartlepool welfare support team sees 250% rise in demand as family poverty and debt problems increase
A 250% rise in support applications from people in need in Hartlepool has prompted moves to improve financial advice and guidance services in the town.
Hartlepool Borough Council provides financial advice and guidance services to support residents battling issues such as child and family poverty, and has seen a rise in demand in recent years.
The council’s welfare support team has also seen applications increase almost 250% since 2014/15, rising from 1,631 to 4,014 in 2018/19.
The team supports many people in need, specifically linked to food and energy advice and support.
The current financial advice service, much of which is delivered across Hartlepool’s community hubs, is provided by a local voluntary and community sector organisation, and the contract ends on 31 March 2020.
Although council officers said the service is providing ‘positive outcomes’ for people, at least 483 people were unable to be accommodated due to high demand and available resources.
A report due to go before the Finance and Policy Committee from Jill Harrison, director of adult and community based services, recommends the service is revised to ‘represent current demand trends’.
It adds the new plan would ‘provide greater agility to respond to the needs of the community and manage the supply and demand more effectively’.
It said: “The demand for financial advice and support, including specialist debt advice, continues to grow, demonstrating a clear need for continued investment.
“There is an average waiting list of 58 individuals seeking debt advice at any one time.
“The current service is full to capacity based on the existing delivery model.
“There are potential opportunities to increase coordination and enable more effective management of demand through different delivery models.”
Other options to be considered will be continuing the existing service as it is and bringing services in house.
The advice provided by the service is free and impartial and aims to support residents of Hartlepool to maximise entitlement to benefits.
It also provides advice on debt management, employment law and completion of welfare benefit claims.
From April 2017 to the end of September 2019 the service has had 4,831 individuals access 9,309 appointments.
Additionally £12,706,180 benefits have been applied for, with £5,889,872 confirmed as successful, although the provider assumes £10,800,253 were successful.
Council bosses add they have provided significant support to those over 50 during this period, who are the highest users of the service, with 34% aged 50 to 64 and 35% aged 60 and over.
They also provide support with the three most common benefit applications- personal independent payment, attendance allowance and council tax support.
The budget for the service is £110,000, which will increase to £112,200 in 2020/21.
The Finance and Policy Committee will consider how the service will be delivered in the future at its meeting on Monday at the Civic Centre from 10am.