Mrs J lives with her husband and three children and was referred to the Home Visit Service. As part of the visit, our staff member completed a benefit entitlement check. Mrs J was not getting Child Benefit or Child Tax Credits for her three children. We encouraged her to apply and supported her through the whole process. She is now better off by almost £220 per week.
We also identified that her electric bill had been quite high as they had been using plug in electric heaters as their old oil heating had not worked in 20 years. We identified that she qualified for an existing NISEP grant scheme and referred her to the scheme. Through the Power NI Energy Saver Homes scheme, she received a new high efficiency gas heating system installed free of charge.
Mrs J needed a lot of support with both the benefit application forms and applying for the heating scheme, and due to our Advice Service we were able to hand hold her throughout the entire process and improved her and her families quality of life.
Mr B lives alone in a Housing Executive bungalow in Lurgan. He had contacted Power NI as he had recently moved into the property and was not sure about how to operate his Economy 7 heating.
As part of the visit we advised him on how to operate his heating system, how the Economy 7 controls work and gave him an indication of how much it would cost to run Economy 7 heating. He was happy with this advice and feels more in control of his heating and his electric bill.
We offered to carry out a benefit entitlement check for him and it turned out he was entitled to extra Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) as he was now living alone. We contacted ESA on his behalf and he is now entitled to an extra £62.45 per week.
He is delighted with this, as it will now cover all of his electric use and more. He would never have known to check this without the Home Visit Service.
Mrs C is a pensioner living alone in Newry. She was referred to the for Your Benefit programme by Power NI’s contact centre. She was struggling to make payments towards her electric bill and had contacted Power NI for some advice.
Mrs C was visited in June 2015 and it was clear that she was struggling to pay all of her outgoings with her State Pension, small amount of Pension Credit and Disability Living Allowance. She was still repaying her mortgage and a loan that she had taken out to make adaptations to her home due to her health and it was putting pressure on her both financially and emotionally.
The energy advice identified that her home could benefit from insulation measures as these had not being upgraded for quite some time. She was referred to a NISEP scheme who arranged for her walls and roofspace to be insulated. She was also referred to the Affordable Warmth scheme, through which she received a new heating system (boiler and radiators) and new PVC double glazed windows. All of these measures were installed free of charge and should help Mrs C reduce down the amount she has to pay for oil.
The benefit entitlement check identified that Mrs C may be eligible for more DLA. Her health conditions had worsened since she first applied for the benefit and we felt she could apply for a review of her existing claim. We assisted her with these claim forms.
Unfortunately, when Mrs C heard back from Disability and Carers Service, her DLA award remained the same. We advised her that she could appeal this decision if she wished and help her with the process. She decided to appeal and the process began.
DLA appeals can be very daunting for clients from start to finish, and Mrs C was worried about losing her existing award. We assisted and supported Mrs C throughout the whole process, from requesting an appeal, gathering medical evidence, reviewing and submitting appeal papers, through to representing at the appeal hearing. Appeal tribunal hearings are a legal process and a solicitor, a doctor and a person with experience of disabilities sit on them. Part of our role also involved making sure Mrs C knew what to expect from the appeal hearing.
Unfortunately the medical evidence available for Mrs C was not strong enough to allow the appeal to increase her existing award, and on the day of the appeal Mrs C decided to withdraw her appeal and remain on her existing award.
Despite this, Mrs C was very happy with all the support she received, saying that she couldn’t believe that she had received all the insulation, a new heating system and new windows just from one phone call about her electric bill. She couldn’t thank us enough.
Miss M is an 82 year old pensioner living in Belfast who heard about the For Your Benefit project through a Bryson Energy mail-out promoting the project.
Miss M has a number of health care needs and has carers calling at her home four times a day. She relies on them for everything, from getting washed and dressed in the morning, providing meals throughout the days and even to using the toilet. She lives alone and does not have family living close-by. She also has cleaners and home-helps that she pays privately to do everyday tasks like buying her shopping and doing her cleaning.
When we called to her house, Miss M told us that she received Disability Living Allowance of low rate care and high rate mobility. This is a very low amount given her care needs, but Miss M was not sure when this was last reviewed (DLA can be periodically reviewed by the department). We contacted Disability and Carers Service to check and they informed us that her award dated back to 1998 and had not been fully reviewed since. Miss M’s health conditions had worsened dramatically in that period of time so we requested her DLA to be reviewed due to a change of circumstances.
We also contacted her GP for a list of Miss M’s medical conditions and the medication that she receives. A second appointment was made with Miss M to complete these forms and we collected this list from her GP prior to the appointment. The forms were then returned to the department and we awaited the decision.
A few weeks later, Miss M contacted us to advise that she had now been awarded high rate care and high rate mobility – worth an extra £60.50 per week. It also means that Miss M is eligible for an additional £61.85 in her Pension Credit award. We contacted Pension Service on her behalf and ordered a form to arrange to have this additional amount added on. We arranged a third appointment to complete this form.
As a result of the For Your Benefit project, Miss M is now better off by £122.35 per week, or £6,362.20 per year. She had recently been in contact with another advice agency who had told her everything was correct. She would not have queried her benefits again without the encouragement and support of the For Your Benefit staff.
Mr C is a 54 year old man living in Lurgan. He also heard about the For Your Benefit through a Bryson Energy mail-out.
Mr C is unable to work due to health reasons and claims Employment and Support Allowance. Through the benefit entitlement check, we identified that Mr C did not receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which you might expect when a person needs extra care and attention due to their health conditions. We checked to see if he had ever made a claim before, which he had, but he was unfortunately turned down for DLA. We encouraged him to apply for PIP, which replaced DLA for new claimants in June 2016. We assisted him with ordering the claim forms and arranged a second visit to complete the forms. We are still awaiting the decision on this. If this is successful, he will be at least £21.80 per week better off.
We then completed energy advice with Mr C. He lives in a relatively new bungalow (approximately 25 years old) which has cavity wall insulation installed and is partially insulated in the roofspace. He has a 25 year old oil heating system, but a few weeks before our visit his boiler had broken down and he had been told by his engineer that it could not be repaired. I advised him that I would check if there was any availability on any of the current NISEP schemes and I spoke with the Power NI representative about Energy Saver Homes. Luckily, there was a space available and they arranged to carry out a survey to confim the condition of the existing boiler, and a new boiler was installed.
By the time I returned to complete the PIP forms a month later, Mr C had a new heating system installed free of charge. He would not have been able to do this with his income from Employment and Support Allowance and would have had to go without a heating system throughout the winter months.
Mr & Mrs C, two pensioners living in Belfast. Mr C contacted Power NI as he had seen an increase in his monthly direct debit, increasing from £48 to £75. When we called out, the reason for the increase in usage was because they had been using a plug in electric heater for a period over the winter when their oil heating had broken. This was now resolved and things had gone back to normal.
When completing the benefit entitlement check, it became clear that Mrs C was claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA), but her health had deteriorated since her last assessment – she now had dementia and significantly increased care needs, and it was likely she was not getting the right rates for her current circumstances. They had been reluctant to ask for a review of her disability benefits as they were scared about how it would impact their other benefits. We discussed it all with them, the possible outcomes and the process of the review. They decided to go ahead and we made a second appointment to fill in the claim forms.
Mr C called back a few weeks later to let us know that his wife’s DLA had increased from low rate care to high rate care, an increase of £64.45 per week. They are delighted with the outcome and without the referral and support would probably still be in the same situation.
Mrs D, pensioner living alone near Killinchy. Mrs D had contacted Power NI as she was finding her electric bills were increasing and she was struggling to afford them on her current incomes – her State Pension and Pension Credit, totalling £167 per week. As part of the visit, we completed a benefit entitlement check. Mrs D had some health issues (arthritis, limited mobility, issues with falling in the home). She had started to apply for a Blue badge for parking but had given up. We offered to help with that form and we also spoke to her about Attendance Allowance, which can be paid when a person has health issues. At first she was reluctant to apply as she had been previously advised by the Make The Call service that she would not be entitled to anything else. She just wanted a Blue Badge to make parking easier.
We arranged to call out a second time to fill in the claim forms for the Blue Badge and to give her some time to think about applying for Attendance Allowance. On the second visit, we filled in the forms for both the Blue Badge and Attendance Allowance. She called us a few weeks later to let us know that she had been awarded the Blue Badge but turned down for Attendance Allowance. When this happens you can appeal the decision, but only after a Mandatory Reconsideration is completed. This is basically when someone else in the benefits department looks at the decision again. Mrs D seemed a bit hesitant but we advised her to request the Reconsideration and to send in any additional medical evidence she had (letter from GP, medical reports). Mrs D called back a couple of months later to advise that she had just got word back and that they had changed the decision and she had been awarded the high rate of Attendance Allowance (£87.65 a week).
We were then able to identify that she was now also entitled to more Pension Credit (£65.85) and how to get that added on. She is now better off by £153.50 per week, almost twice as much as she did before. She is delighted with the outcome, and said she “couldn’t believe it, that it will change [her] life, it is so great to get this”.
Mr P living alone in Larne. Mr P had called in as he was struggling financially.
When we contacted him, we established that he was getting ESA as he was unable to work but he had not claimed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for his personal care needs. He had had several strokes and mini strokes over the past five years which had left him unsteady on his feet. He did not leave the house and relied on a friend to do all his messages for him. We discussed PIP with him, advising him to order the forms and call back once they had arrived so that we could help fill them in.
He called us a few weeks later and said he did not want to fill the forms in at the time as his mum had taken unwell and he was not coping with everything. We told him that was fine, not to be worrying (he sounded quite distressed at the time) and to call back when he was ready to complete them. He also called PIP and told them the same.
Mr P then called back a few months later to advise that he had just got a letter from PIP to say that following his medical assessment, he had been found ineligible for PIP; this was despite not completing the claim forms. He said that he had been contacted a few weeks previously and was asked some questions by the department – which it turns out was his medical assessment. This can happen sometimes where the dept will complete the medical without the completed forms and tends to be for those more vulnerable. However, in this situation, he was turned down as a result. It was very unfair, as the customer had not had a chance to put forward their situation in the claim forms.
Together we submitted a Mandatory Reconsideration request. We spent a couple of hours writing a letter essentially completing the claim form, outlining all the areas that he struggled with, and asking the department to look at the decision again.
Mr P called back in June to advise that he had just got a letter from PIP notifying that they have looked at the decision again and he has been awarded the Standard rate of PIP daily living and mobility, worth an extra £83.70 per week. This also means that he is entitled to extra money in his ESA claim, worth an extra £67.30 per week. Both benefits will be backdated to the time of his original PIP claim, and he will get over £5000 of backdated money. He is now better off by £147.40 per week, more than double what he was getting before. He was so grateful for the advice and support he had received, saying he really appreciates it.
Miss B, lady living alone near Newtownards. Miss B was referred to the service by the PAR Team. She had around £300 of electricity arrears and was struggling to pay them.
When we first contacted Miss B, we initially discussed her usage and payment options. It became very clear, very quickly that she was living with a reduced income and was struggling to pay anything. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had to stop working. She was in receipt of some disability benefits but was really struggling to make ends meet. We completed a full benefit entitlement check for her and identified that she should be receiving some Universal Credit to top up her other benefits. She was unsure about claiming this as she had been told around a year ago by her local Jobs and Benefit Office that she shouldn’t apply for this as it would impact her other benefits. This advice was incorrect, and I encouraged her to make a claim. She did, and the claim was successful; she now receives an extra £59 per week and no longer has to pay for her rates (worth around £10 a week).
We advised her to contact us again once this was in payment, and we could discuss both her electricity payment options and putting in a complaint around the incorrect advice she had received.
She contacted me a few weeks later and set up a direct debit arrangement. She also managed to secure some support from another charity to clear her outstanding electricity balance.
We then began the complaints process by writing a letter to the local Jobs and Benefit Office about the incorrect advice that she had received. This process took almost six months to resolve, but we were recently notified that the Department for Communities have accepted that Miss B received information that was incorrect, and due to the “official error”, they were able to backpay her the money that she had missed out – almost £3,000. We are hoping to get some help with her rates back paid too.
Miss B is delighted with these outcomes. When we were talking recently, she said:
“I just can’t tell us how brilliant it all is. I forget how bad things were, I was holding everyone off, it was a horrible space to be in. If I hadn’t of spoken to you, I don’t know where I would be. I had no money for food and was living off the foodbank”
She has commented throughout the process about the support and help she was given:
“Thank you so, so much for all your help and advice. I just can't tell you how much your help has changed things for me. I've never had that dedicated support before and going through such a hard time has been tough, but you seriously helped me so, so much”
Mrs Q, a pensioner living in Coalisland with her husband. Mrs Q contacted Power NI to see if there was any help with her electricity costs as her husband was having to carry out dialysis every other day at home and she was seeing increased costs.
As part of the call, we completed a benefit entitlement check and energy advice. They were already claiming all the benefits that they were entitled to in their situation. We also discussed energy advice, and generally their usage was reasonable. Unfortunately there is no specific help or discounts for a person using medical equipment and we explained this. We discussed the payment options available to Mrs Q and we were able to give them a £25 credit through the Power NI Care Fund.
As part of the call, we established that their home could benefit from more insulation. This would help keep their home warmer for longer and would hopefully reduce some of their heating bills. They qualified for a grant to have the insulation installed free of charge, and their details were passed to one of the grant scheme managers.
Mrs Q was more than happy with the advice provided and was glad to be referred directly to an insulation scheme.
Mrs M lives with husband and young family in Carrickfergus. Mrs M was referred to the service as she had received a large electricity bill following several estimated meter reads and then a recent customer read had generated a large catch-up bill. When we contacted Mrs M, it became clear a home visit may be more appropriate due to the increased usage and to establish more about the customer’s situation and to confirm the meter read was correct.
A home visit was completed and confirmed that the usage in the property is particularly high. A preliminary meter check had already been completed with no fault found but a further check meter was to be completed.
Mrs M lives with her husband and two young children, and usage was generally normal. One of their daughters has complex health needs and they had recently been using a hot tub to allow their daughter to keep up with her hydrotherapy that had been postponed due to Covid-19. We explained that this could cause usage to increase quite significantly. Mrs M queried this being the only reason, as she has had a few issues with increased usage and estimated reads from when she moved into the property, despite NIE Networks having access to the property for meter reads and previous meter checks being completed.
When looking at the customer’s bills and meter check reports, there appeared to be something more complicated going on with the meter reads as they did not seem to follow correctly, so we referred the customer to Customer Relations to investigate. We also coordinated with Mrs M for her to complete a diary of daily meter reads and appliance usage.
Through the meter read dairy we were able to estimate average daily use and highlight that the hot tub was causing a significant increase in usage. We were able to provide advice on other appliances that may be increasing the usage (washing machine and tumble dryer were being used a lot) and Mrs M contacted us after the visit to confirm the running costs of other appliances.
An investigation into the meter reads was completed by the Customer Relations team which did identify an issue with the meter reads. Customer Relations were able to reduce the outstanding balance due to the length of time the issue had been ongoing for.
This case highlights how some cases are more complicated, the benefit of a home visit to help identify more complex issues, and how the For Your Benefit team will work together with other Power NI teams to find solutions for the customer.