At Bryson Energy we operate a range of Advice programmes and services to householders across Northern Ireland and in the last year we engaged with over 21,000 households. One of the key services is the PowerNI funded Home Visit Service. Below is one example of the positive impact of this service.
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”.