‘Positive Partnership Practice in a Pandemic’
By John Ryan, WBLL Adviser – VOICES, SNSCAB
Working in partnership with the local Drug and Alcohol service WBLL (welfare benefits leading and learning) assists the service to provide benefits support to service users through upskilling the recovery workers and building confidence in dealing with benefits issues that were previously addressed by external agencies. WBLL provide in-situ training sessions as part of the agencies continuous personal development program (CPD) and The WBLL advisor is chosen for having experience in the recovery environment as well as knowledge and access to specialist benefits expertise as a CAB advisor.
WBLL project operates from multiple venues and was set up with remote access to virtual desktops via project owned laptops with reliable connectivity and internet capable mobile phones, as a result of the current Covid-19 restrictions on face to face contact the transition to remote working has been an extension of existing procedures.
What’s working well/challenges overcome
Prior to Covid-19 lockdown, Recovery co-ordinator Peter had already formed a working relationship with WBLL and when Sarah told him she had ‘some benefit forms’ he could see how she might be helped. Due to the lockdown and unable to schedule a face to face meeting he consulted WBLL by email, gathered information and, following a joint consultation using phone contact and email Sarah was helped to complete the forms while at home. During the phone consultations between WBLL and Peter potential eligibility for PIP disability benefit was also identified, in the meantime Sarah was fast tracked for her 7th detox treatment in hospital and, while in treatment, supported by Peter she made her initial telephone claim for PIP the day before discharge.
On her return home during the continuing lockdown, it became apparent that Sarah was struggling to shop for food or obtain further medication. WBLL, in consultation with the alcohol service obtained support from VAST (local authority sponsored) volunteer organisation, who assisted in delivery of food parcel, collection and delivery of medications and extra on-going telephone support, meanwhile Peter had arranged Adult Social Services to assess Sarah’s home care needs. The alcohol service’s reporting system for recording client episodes and information is also accessible to WBLL advisor and has proved invaluable in coordinating actions and accessing stored documents including GP summaries and relevant medical information.
Sarah has now been assisted to complete her PIP application forms in a situation where there is no face to face option, and she is also struggling to adapt to her own changed environment after detox. In the absence of digital capacity (Sarah has no internet or computer) we have used multiple telephone appointments to achieve this outcome and, including helping her to maintain motivation to complete the task, it has been a lengthy process. Due to the DWP processing of certain benefits via paper forms we have had to rely on postal service for paper copies of completed forms to be sent both to and from the client and ultimately to DWP.
What’s not working so well
This is a steep learning curve regarding how we now adapt more to the digital age and how we can effectively assist digitally excluded people such as Sarah including obtaining consents, acting as representative and sharing information. DWP do not accept certain documents via email and may be unwilling to discuss benefits issues unless client is present to give consent, obtaining and providing written consent is a lengthy process when relying on traditional postal services.
As we move to adapt to the fast pace of change, there is no doubt that different (and sometimes opposing) agencies have their own unique challenges. Technology is now playing a much bigger role in service delivery and new practices for sharing information along with inclusive digital access for service users should be a priority. Due to differences in IT systems, demands and capability we are currently reviewing the format for delivery of on-going training and service delivery. Much of recent training has been on a 1-1 basis through email and telephone support on a case-specific basis.
The names of people mentioned have been changed to protect their identities.