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Category: Web Log

Event: Solution Focus Practice and Beyond

VOICES solution focussed event
By Steve Freeman, Solution Focused Practitioner   June is looming on the horizon and it’s all set fair for the 2020 UK Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP) Conference on 25th and 26th at Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent. Expert Citizens and VOICES have hosted UKASFP conference workshops for a few years now. Response to last year’s hosted conversation around @SoTCoP was really well received. This year’s contributions promise to be even better. As with previous conferences there will be workshops on a range of topics. Most importantly for people reading the VOICES newsletter is the focus on disenfranchisement and homelessness. I’ve noticed for a while that most attempts to discuss social equality and social justice are based in problem- focused, expertise- based, trauma- obsessed and generally well- meaning thinking. The UKASFP Conference will have contributors and delegates working with established models such as Housing First. We are hoping to have delegates from organisations, groups and individuals involved in and with experience of homelessness and its related social complexities. Many delegates will be viewing people as inherently competent. More resource and competence informed than trauma informed. Meaningfully adopting Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) by taking a solution- focused approach. Accepting and working with all available expertise. Research in, and… Continue Reading

A day in the life of a Service Coordinator

VOICES day in the life service co
By Elena Casilli, Service Coordinator, VOICES   As a Service Coordinator I want to make sure that I represent myself and all my colleagues in the best possible light… hard working, dedicated, supportive and it goes without saying…service coordinating! Which day do I pick to represent a day in the life of a service coordinator? Is it the day I collect a  customer from prison, or is the day when a customer leaves a voicemail stating they are planning on self-harming  while I’m on the way to another customer for a long awaited mental health assessment? Or the   day a customer hasn’t collected their methadone prescription for 3 days and is on the brink of being asked to leave the hostel in the middle of winter for service charges arrears?  Or is it the perfectly planned day that has me meeting with 2 customers with ample time for case notes, completing new  actions on the same day and having lunch with no crisis phone calls?  Or the administration day that consists of making referrals and following up with referrals, emails and phone calls, updating risk assessments and service coordination plans, or organising the much needed multi agency meetings? To be fair there is no… Continue Reading

Deductions from Universal Credit (UC)

VOICES UC deductions
By Julie Holdcroft, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   Money can be taken from your UC when there’s no other way for you to repay debts for things like rent, gas, electricity, water and council tax.  Your UC can be further reduced if you owe money for things such as an Advance Payment, Sanctions, or a Benefit overpayment. Many people with multiple and complex needs find that they are having the maximum amount deducted from their UC.  Freedom of Information data shows that over 60% of UC claimants are having their benefit cut to pay off debts and loans, including Advance Payments and, 25% of UC claimants are in problem debt compounded by excessive deductions from their benefit, according to the debt charity StepChange. In October 2019, the overall maximum percentage rate for all debts and deductions that can be taken from a UC payment was reduced from 40% to 30% of the claimant’s UC standard allowance. However there are two exceptions to this rule: Last Resort Deductions (arrears of housing and fuel), and ongoing monthly costs for utilities (gas, electricity and water) where there are also arrears being taken for them. A maximum of 3 deductions can be made at one time.   Financial Hardship If… Continue Reading

A day in the life of a Community Development Coordinator

VOICES day in the life of lee
By Lee Dale, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES My name is Lee and eight months ago I became a Community Development Coordinator for VOICES. To be honest getting the role was the easy part, the true work started once I began. So, what’s happening today? Well the biggest part of my role is recruiting and developing people with lived experience to become mentors, educators and service coordination assistants. I say lived experience, but more precisely those who have experience of mental ill health, addiction, homelessness, offending and domestic violence. This gave me a unique challenge from my first day in post. I recently read a research paper that concluded that only 30 percent of people who apply to be a volunteer, become active volunteers. So why is this I asked myself. I began to reflect on my own experience of becoming a volunteer and started to remember the motives I had to do so. Firstly, it was a way of keeping myself busy and allowing me to focus on recovery, secondly I knew education would be an important way of opening doors to employment and lastly I wanted more out of life. These were my own motives yet I knew everybody wouldn’t be… Continue Reading

Working While Living in Supported Housing

VOICES Working in Supported Housing
By Julie Holdcroft, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   Supported Housing provides temporary accommodation, ususally for up to 2 years, to support people who need help to find or manage a home. Support Workers work closely with customers to prepare them to move into independent living by supporting them to manage their tenancy, develop their skills and to take up training and work opportunities.   Many people in Supported Housing are on Universal Credit and can have ‘Claimant Commitments’ which require them to look for full time work. However working full time and living in supported housing can incur high costs for the customer. Supported Housing is partly funded by additional support costs added on to the rent which are covered by Housing Benefit. Supported accommodation is deemed ‘exempt accomodation’ and is still covered by Housing Benefit rather than the Housing Costs Element of UC. When support costs are added into the rent,  housing costs can be up to £200+ p/wk for shared or single accomodation. Customers in shared accommodation have a service charge to pay of around £15 p/wk which covers the utlity bills. Customer in single accommodation pay their own bills including Council Tax. As long as a claimant recieves some UC… Continue Reading

Lost – Recognising and responding to loneliness

VOICES lost loneliness
By Steven Talbot, Training and Consultancy, Steven Talbot Consultancy   “A subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want.”  Perlman, D.   Hello all, I’ve recently been delivering my course, ‘Lost – recognising and responding to loneliness.’  The course was designed in collaboration with customers from across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. VOICES commissioned me to spread the word through their citywide learning programme1, especially regarding the amount of people across Stoke-on-Trent who are experiencing loneliness. The VOICES project is aimed at testing alternative approaches to tackling systemic barriers to effective support along with learning and evaluation to identify what works well.  The project has achieved numerous examples of coproduction and lived experience (Expert Citizens) is included in the design, development and delivery at all levels. I was asked to create the course to assist workers in recognising the signs of loneliness, tackle the issue, listen to customers and support people into embracing company and companionship. Learners are often shocked by the figures and statistics relating to loneliness, especially the amount of young people and young parents who are isolated and alone.  There’s a slight myth… Continue Reading

Hindsight is a beautiful thing: Reflections of a Service Coordinator

VOICES Reflections of a Service Coordinator
By Anna Mather, Service Coordinator, VOICES I was recently asked “if I could go back and give myself advice when becoming a service coordinator what would I say to myself?” It’s a very good question, what would I say? Well firstly I would remind myself ‘you are service coordinator and not support worker.’ What’s the difference I hear you ask? Well as a coordinator your role is to coordinate services to provide support for our customers, as opposed to providing support directly, even though as a human being it’s built in me to do my best to support any anyone I work with. However, by doing this, I learnt the hard way that if you ‘support work,’ it is incredibly hard. You have one set of hands, you have the timescale of one role – if you don’t stick to it the customers suffer, and so do you. Secondly, (I want you to work with me on this one) it is ok to say ‘no’. It doesn’t matter if you say no to a customer or another service, in some cases it may even be your own colleague’s, but it is OK. Obviously, I don’t mean saying no just for the sake of it,… Continue Reading

High-ho, high-ho, it’s off to plant some tree’s we go!

VOICES tree planting
VOICES Service Coordinator Elena Casilli recently accompanied her customer Brad to a tree planting event, organised by Fenns stationary supplies, in a bid to offset the carbon footprint created by printing and photocopying for business purposes over the last year. This is what Ellie and Brad had to say: We trekked to the Young Peoples Forest at Mead Derbyshire where we were kitted out in our wet weather gear, we were given instructions and then we were let loose, the saplings and shovel collected and off we trudged through the fields to plant Beech and Oak saplings. Brad and I worked great as a team – he shovelled and I planted on a day best described as wet, muddy and cold. Brad was ‘chief hole digger’ and I was ‘sapling planter’. Brad was digging the holes much faster than I was planting and trying to motivate me to work faster (to no avail!) and Brad ended up doing both jobs at once. There was a ugly incident whereby I lost my footing and face planted in the mud… Brad came along and lifted me out and cheekily muttered “you’re not too good on your feet duck!”. I asked Brad to share his thoughts about the day and he wrote, “ we got stuck… Continue Reading

Mandatory Reconsideration: Maximise the Chance of Changing a Decision

By Julie Holdcroft, Welfare Benefits Advisor, Stoke North & Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   If you get a decision from the DWP that you think is incorrect, you have the right to ask the DWP to reconsider this decision. This is called a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR).   Under normal rules you have a calendar month from the date of the decision to submit this request over the phone, or ideally in writing. If there is a good reason why it was not possible to submit this request within a month, then a late request can be made but ‘good cause’ for the delay must be accepted by the DWP. Good cause could be the claimant was ill or has a specific vulnerability that meant that they needed help to submit an MR request (if the DWP don’t accept good cause, they still have to issue an appealable decision and you can then appeal to a Tribunal who can consider the case). Currently only 15% of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) MRs change a decision.  To maximise the chance of success at MR, you need to know how the Decision Maker came to their decision. This could mean that you need to request or a copy of… Continue Reading

Hidden Homelessness

By Geoff Davis, Specialist Housing Advisor, Stoke North & Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   Hidden Homelessness If you ask the average person to describe someone who is homeless, then most people would conjure up the image of some poor individual huddled against the cold in a shop doorway. Indeed, street homelessness has received a fair deal of media attention over the last 18 months with many people describing the seemingly inexorable rise in rough sleeping as a national disgrace.  Last year, the government announced a new £100 million Rough Sleepers Strategy with the aim of ending rough sleeping for good. In autumn 2018 there were estimated to be 6,677 people sleeping on the streets but rough sleeping can be seen as merely the tip of the homelessness iceberg.  Homelessness can also include people living in temporary or insecure accommodation, those sofa surfing, squatting, staying with family, living in hotel rooms or motor vehicles. Although the true scale of hidden homelessness is hard to measure, experts believe a “perfect storm” of welfare reforms, a lack of suitable housing and secure work have contributed to a growing number of “hidden homeless”. There is a distinction between those classed as ‘statutory homeless’ individuals or families who have been identified and… Continue Reading

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