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Welfare Benefits Leading and Learning (WBLL): Collaborative working with Integrated Offender Management (IOM)

VOICES IOM

Author: John Ryan, Welfare benefits Case worker, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent

 

Disclaimer – Customer names have been changed to provide anonymity

In early 2021 VOICES extended the specialist welfare benefit advice team to be placed within the local prison release pathway in response to needs identified through our ongoing research and consultation in prison discharge.  I have worked on this pilot for several months as the welfare benefit specialist.  At the start, my role was focused on building relationships and raising awareness of the purpose of the WBLL team – to become embedded within services, offering my knowledge and skills as a learning and development resource to professionals, and to act in a consultancy role for complex benefit cases. The pilot has made substantial progress; I am now working within the IOM team on a regular basis.  This article reflects on outcomes and achievements as a result of effective partnership work.

IOM (Integrated Offender Management), working through both Police Field Officers and Probation Service Officers, seeks to break the problematic cycle of offending, custody, release, re-offending and return to custody. Adopting a holistic approach, offender managers support individuals with multiple and complex needs using their skills and knowledge to help coordinate both statutory and third sector organisations including: Housing providers, Local Authority, Mental Health Services, G. P’s and Substance Misuse agencies.

 

Collaborative working

Welfare Benefits Leading and Learning (WBLL) role is to support offender managers in ensuring the client group are able to access welfare benefits to which they are legally entitled while also leaving a legacy of learning to enhance the skills available within the partnership.

Case discussions are held at weekly Multi Agency Practitioners meetings (MAP) and WBLL play a role in listening to and sharing information, offering guidance and following through with more detailed analysis of individual case concerns directly with the offender manager involved. WBLL have access to specialist input from partners and this in-turn informs and enhances the content of benefit specific advice and information provided.

 

“Collaborative working is beneficial and rewarding for all of us. Ultimately my clients receive an extra level of support through WBLL not previously available through our service.  It is also invaluable to have a specialist point of contact to refer to and saves me time making unnecessary enquiries that I may have done previously” IOM Field Officer

 

Adding Value

 

 “We have worked jointly including submitting a number of paper-based claims, this has added to my skills and understanding along with encouraging a challenging group of clients to maintain their engagement, I have been able to encourage clients to be honest in describing their difficulties during appointments with WBLL” IOM Field Officer

 

Case study

Steve was in receipt of UC housing costs, and, at the same time, he was building up rent arrears so putting his tenancy ‘in danger’. The IOM manager worked with Steve to address his difficulties with managing rent payments. WBLL consulted with the manager, and we conducted a benefit check including explaining the way UC housing costs work, the claimant’s responsibilities, and how there is provision for requesting a managed payment directly to the landlord.

 

 “John helped me to question further the information I had been given by Steve, the figures didn’t appear to add up and in exploring this further he became more open about his level of benefit income. I established he was using his housing costs to cover his daily living expenses instead of paying the rent. I attempted to help him to set up a MPTL (managed payment to landlord) however there were issues with UC computer systems when I called so I was unable to progress that, however soon afterwards the landlord applied for direct payments to be made to them and he is now able to budget appropriately” IOM Field Officer

 

Making a difference

Case study

David has been served notice seeking possession of his rented property. He has very complex needs, including long term opiate dependency, which manifest in challenging behaviours. He has cognitive difficulties which results in struggling to manage his behaviour and housing. He has limited income and has been unable to comply with his tenancy agreement due to antisocial behaviour.

 

 “John has helped me to understand the criteria of an award of PIP and Limited Capability for Work and, by sharing information, we are working jointly on David’s claims.  I have been able to support David to engage more successfully with his GP and medical professionals and he has been further encouraged by the understanding that he will be supported through any claims process and that medical evidence will help his case” IOM Field Officer

 

We have assessed David’s health conditions in the context of disability benefits with reference to IOM mental health practitioner report and IOM contact logs, which show his history of difficulty along with referring the housing case directly to WBLL colleagues housing team.

 

“I have been able to share my experience and knowledge of my client’s daily difficulties with John and he gives me clear and coherent information and direction to assist.  John has also contacted his colleagues to assist with enquiries that may be out of his area of expertise” IOM Field Officer

 

Shared learning

Working with IOM has provided WBLL with access to many other professionals including through the Multi-agency (MAP) meetings, along with face-to-face contact and working at partner agency premises. This exposure has increased WBLL awareness of particular challenges for the client group and practitioners along with providing invaluable client specific information and evidence informing new claims, eligibility assessments and challenging decisions.

 

“John shares knowledge and resources including text and reference materials along with detailed emails which have helped me to better understand the criteria used to make more effective, timely and accurate benefits claims. He provides support to complete forms and has helped me to explore the difficulties my clients face in the context of establishing any potential eligibility in a more confident and better-informed way” IOM Field Officer

 

For more examples of real lived experiences of how the integration of a WBLL specialist advisor supports services with complex cases and outcomes for customers read the VOICES evaluation report.

Special thanks to Amanda, IOM Field Officer for her support in mobilising the WBLL pilot within the local prison release journey and for contributions to this article.

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