Welfare support team in South Tyneside providing 'invaluable support' during cost of living crisis, meeting hears

Councillors have praised South Tyneside’s welfare support team for their “invaluable” work helping people facing hardship during the cost of living crisis

However, the service is ‘tenure blind’ and offers support to anyone living in South Tyneside, from tenants in council properties and housing associations to home-owners and people renting from a private landlord.

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A presentation on the work of the service was given to councillors and members of the public at the East Shields and Whitburn Community Area Forum (CAF) on Thursday, November 17.

Households are being reminded support is available.

Services include specialist advice and casework support in relation to welfare benefits, debt and court applications, as well as tribunal representation for appeals against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Appointments for benefit and debt advice are either face to face or over the telephone with home visits also offered when required.

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Since April 2022, it is estimated the service has achieved a “financial gain” of £3.5million for the borough’s local economy in terms of debts written-off, new benefits claimed and money reclaimed after the DWP stopped benefits.

Other support services include Local Welfare Provision, which covers crisis support on behalf of South Tyneside Council providing emergency food, gas and electricity vouchers and household items.

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As part of its ‘social navigators’ project, a bespoke team also works with vulnerable residents who are “financially excluded” to provide support and help prevent crisis, with around 181 clients having accessed the service.

As the cost of living crisis continues, the service faces high demand in terms of applications to its Local Welfare Provision.

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Andrew McGill, welfare support team manager at South Tyneside Homes, said the amount of applications pre-pandemic would normally be around 1,600 per year.

Since April this year however, a total of 2,292 applications have been submitted for crisis and community care support.

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Mr McGill told the CAF: “You can see how much people are struggling and how much we’re trying our very best to help people with that support”.

Councillors heard that appointments were available generally within a week but in the case of emergencies, same day appointments could be made available.

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In response to a question from Cleadon Park councillor, Susan Traynor, councillors heard systems were in place to make sure welfare support team staff were “safe and supported”.

During discussion, members of the CAF praised the work of the welfare support team and its positive impact on borough residents.

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Councillor Ruth Berkley, Horsley Hill ward representative and cabinet member for voluntary sector, partnerships and equalities, praised ongoing work to support people during the cost of living crisis.

Cllr Berkley said: “At the cost of living summit your contribution was invaluable and it’s really helped to give some confidence to those who are really really suffering”.

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Councillor Alexander Donaldson, chair of the East Shields and Whitburn CAF, added: “From this CAF, would you give the staff congratulations and thanks for what they’re doing.

“It’s something that’s really necessary and will become more necessary and we’re just pleased that they’re there.”

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More information about the welfare support service can be found on South Tyneside Council’s website: https://www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/1467/Welfare-Support-Service

The service can also be contacted by telephone at (0191) 424 6040 or by email at [email protected]