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Financial Advice

As well as the obvious health concerns, coronavirus has also created money worries for many people who live with SCI. Here, Alex Rankin explains how Aspire can advise you on a range of financial matters.

Most of us don’t like to talk about money. But we’ve all had times when we’ve reached the end of the month with nothing in the bank or have felt overwhelmed by financial commitments.  It is no surprise that 2020 has been a difficult year for many of us, and inevitably a lot of people have seen disruption to their household income since the pandemic took hold; financial worries have gone hand in hand with the spread of the virus.

The Aspire Money Matters service has been running throughout the year, supporting people who want to talk about their finances, to get help with budgeting or to look at ways of maximising their income.

Phil, our Money Matters specialist, can discuss debt issues or help engage with creditors, but most of our clients this year have come to us to talk about taking control of their finances before such issues arise and to help them plan for the future. For Liz, this meant taking steps that helped her feel more confident about the years to come:

“As Phil suggested, I contacted HMRC State Pension Query Unit and discovered that nine years’ of ESA National Insurance Credits had not been credited to me. I had to contact the Job Centre, who eventually did what should have been done and now I only have one more qualifying year to get a full State Pension. Following on, I looked at my private pensions and engaged a local Financial Adviser who helped me transfer to another company; the private pensions won’t amount to much, but an extra £1,600 a year will still be very welcome. Phil’s help and advice really helped me get my financial affairs in order and helped me get to a position where I was able to move house.”

It feels like we’ve all been through so much. But as the furlough scheme comes to an end and the ongoing possibilities of a ‘second wave’ or local lockdowns hang over us, we know that there could be more disruption to come. Whether you are already experiencing money worries, or just think that now is a good time to get things straight, our Money Matters service is there for you. We can offer a full  assessment of your financial situation, help draw up a personal budget plan, and look at ways to maximise the money that you do have – it’s free and impartial, so call Phil on 020 8420 8960 and let him help.

It’s not just worries about income that have increased. Claiming benefits is tough at the best of times, but with an overworked DWP and changes to the rules on assessments, these last months have been particularly testing. The closure of the SCI Centres to all but essential staff has also meant that patients have no longer had access to the Aspire-instigated DWP Visiting Officers, leaving them without the usual support. Aspire has worked closely with the Case Managers and has been taking referrals direct from the hospitals to fill this gap. Overall, it’s no wonder that Aspire’s Welfare Benefits Advice service has seen a 30% increase in cases compared to the same time period last year.

Whilst we might be busy, and with the Aspire office closed during lockdown, the team has met the challenge and continued to provide vital support whilst working remotely. We’ve been providing regular updates on the Aspire website, including a Coronavirus and Benefits Frequently Asked Questions page that has been in heavy demand. And our core work, of providing dedicated advice and support to people facing difficulties with their benefit applications, has continued uninterrupted. Since the start of lockdown, the Aspire team has helped its clients claim £180,000 worth of benefits that the clients were entitled to but were previously not receiving.

“I had no idea what I was entitled to so when Hari pointed out what the DWP had missed and suggested I make the claim, I didn’t think much about it. Hari helped me with the paperwork, but I still didn’t expect to have this money at the end. I was in shock. And it really couldn’t have happened at a better time for me; I had no money, my debts were building and I’d just moved house. The arrears payment I received cleared my debts and meant I could buy the things I needed like a higher table and a bed. It was just a massive relief.”

If you have concerns about your benefit application, are worried you haven’t been properly assessed or are considering appealing a decision that has been made, Aspire can help. To talk to a specialist Welfare Benefits Adviser call 020 8420 6711 or email [email protected]

This article first appeared in the October 2020 issue of FORWARD magazine.  Find out more about FORWARD and how you can get your copy.