West Yorkshire's Safer Project funded by the Big Lottery
The growing level of debt in older adults is becoming an increasing concern for many organisations, particularly in light of the welfare reforms.
The new SAFER project, (Scams and Frauds Education for Residents), delivered by West Yorkshire Trading Standards and funded by the Big Lottery, aims to raise awareness of scams, frauds and rogue trader activities, that often mean victims are parted with large sums of money, whilst also supporting residents who have fallen into financial difficulties and are struggling with household budgets.
The education and community empowerment initiative is now six months in to its 2 year programme, and is already seeing some alarming findings, confirming that many older residents are struggling to meet repayment demands on loans, credit card payments, fuel and utility bills, and are falling further into debt by becoming victims of scams, frauds and rogue traders.
Many older people can be susceptible to falling in to debt due to a number of reasons and changes in personal circumstances, and are often unaware of the services and support available to them. One client, who was recently widowed, and had a drastically reduced income, was finding it difficult to manage the repayments on a bank loan, credit card and catalogue. With the support of the SAFER debt advice officer, who negotiated on her behalf, her monthly payments were reduced from £200 per month to £3.00 per month. The debt adviser also worked in partnership with the National Armed Forces Charity, SSAFA, who paid her rent arrears off and supported her in her need to be rehoused nearer her family.
A lack of confidence and understanding of basic household bills and utilities can also contribute to arrears and lack of ability to meet priority debts. One client received a fuel bill for £927.25, without realising that her bills had been estimated for the last 3 years. Meter readings were taken and concluded that the bill was actually only £247.77 (£659.77 cheaper). Coupled with a claim for Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance, the client is now £112.50 a week better off.
In addition to supporting participants with the management of their debts, the debt advice worker is also helping to improve access to appropriate benefits for those participating in the project. A recent survey showed that 3.5 million older people do not claim the benefits they are entitled to and in several cases, a basic benefits check and application for Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance have seen some clients increase their weekly income by up to £138 per month, making monthly budgeting much more manageable.
Being in debt can cause anxiety and stress and be detrimental to mental well-being. Many clients visiting the debt advice worker were paying more per week in repayments than their state pension covered. One lady had a number of doorstep loans equating to £110 per month in repayments. By providing support and negotiating with a number of doorstep lenders, her payments have been drastically reduced to £5.00 per month, which is a total saving of £435 per month, making a significant improvement in her quality of life.
Since the project began, the debt advice worker attached to the project has dealt with a staggering £261,430 worth of debts and is currently managing a running total of £99,052 worth of debts. In addition to this has helped clients maximise their income to the value of more than £138,000 and has enabled more than £162,000 worth of debts to be written off, ensuring that the most financially challenged are better able to manage their household budgets and have the confidence to seek preventative support when needed.
Graham Hebblethwaite, Chief Officer of West Yorkshire Trading Standards said ‘This exciting and innovative project will not only enable older people to feel confident in identifying scams and frauds, to help them protect themselves, but also encourage the reporting of such incidents without feeling embarrassed or threatened. Getting involved also means we can help with debt and money management advice.’
Councillor Bill Urry, of the Trading Standards Committee, said ‘By raising awareness of scams and frauds in the local community, we hope to avoid more people falling victim and finding that they’ve lost money to rogue traders. We’re also training partner agencies to spot scams and potential victims of scams, to create a higher level of consumer protection. There are so many ways in which organisations can also get involved in this worthwhile project whether it is through community workshops, staff training or volunteer recruitment and we urge all those working with older people to support the project and sustain the excellent work already achieved.’
To report scams and frauds to Trading Standards, please ring the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 08454 040506.
Organisations wishing to get involved in the project should contact:
Carrie Wilson for Leeds on 0113 393 9809 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lanson Moore for Bradford on 0113 393 9808 or email@example.com
DATE: 17 June 2013