Living in Poverty: Fair Frome true case study published in the Frome Times 8th October 2015

 

Fair Frome Case Study 1

“Fair Frome exists to help the most disadvantaged individuals and families in the town. To many, Frome will appear to be a thriving place with low unemployment and a burgeoning cultural and social scene. However this masks a different reality for many people in the town who are unwaged or on zero hour contracts and paying high rents and fees in the private sector”.

With the help of the editor of the Frome Times, we intend to run a series of case studies featuring some of the people living in Frome who are struggling. I can’t emphasis enough that these are real people, although names and inconsequential details have been added to protect their identity. We don’t present them to you to ask for your sympathy, they are all proud people who want to make their own way, all we want to do is make you aware of the issues facing some of your neighbours…….or perhaps even members of your family.

Sophie’s Story

Sophie is a single parent in her late 20s with 2 girls under 7. She moved to Frome when she was 17 years old to join other members of her family who live here.

As a single parent she has had to rely on benefits to survive until her children are old enough to go to school. During this time she has had the support of her family but she has also had to borrow money at exorbitant rates just to make ends meet. She has had to make hard choices between food or heat for her family, there have been no treats for the children and she is very careful with the money she has.

Sophie rents and one of the main causes of her financial difficulties has been the difference between the local Housing Allowance and the actual rents in Frome. The current local Housing Allowance is £535 per month for a 2 bed house, while actual rents are between £650 and £800. As a result every week she has had to dip into money intended for the family just to keep a roof over their head. At times she has been £150 short once she has paid the rent.

Once heating is taken into account Sophie and her two children have around £100 per week for everything else including electricity, food, clothes, furniture, debt repayment and furniture.

Sophie is keen to work and as her oldest is now at school and she has landed a part-time job at 20 hours per week. She was over the moon, at last a possible light at the end of the tunnel. However she now learns that she will lose all of her Housing Benefit when she is switched to Working Tax Credit and any financial gain from working is lost because child care is needed for her youngest daughter. The child care costs more per hour than her minimum wage job pays.

Sophie now has a boyfriend, he works full time. It’s early days in the relationship but if they were to move in together and if her job stops she will lose all her benefits and have to rely on him to provide for her and her children ….removing all her financial independence.

Sophie feels very frustrated, she just can’t get started into a settled family life. She is and wants to continue to work but a part time job on the minimum wage is just not enough to live on and most of it is eaten up by childcare costs.

When it comes to housing she finds it hard to understand how estate agents can justify the huge amount they charge in fees to those looking to rent. This is added to the problems of rents that exceed the local Housing Allowance. The situation isn’t going to get any better any time soon, as according to Mendip there are 1000 families on their housing list and only 69, yes 69, 2 bed houses in total, available to rent in Frome. She would like more affordable housing to be built in the long term, but in the short term it would be fairer if the local Housing Allowance reflected actual rents in the town.

If you want to give any practical help for Fair Frome to assist people like Sophie and sign up to donate an amount however small every month, please take a look at our Fair Frome Page on Local Giving athttps://localgiving.com/charity/fairfrome Between 13 October and 18 November, all online donations up to £10 will be doubled during the Local Giving ‘Grow Your Tenner’ campaign. For more information on our work, pop into the office one morning, (9-12 noon, Monday to Thursday) or check out www.fairfrome.org

 

Case Study 2:

Tom’s Story

Toms parents moved away from Frome to a smaller home and the privately rented accommodation he was staying in gave him notice to leave as the landlord could get higher rent from someone not on housing benefit which is now capped at a level in Frome below the market level. This understandably makes tenants on benefits less attractive to private landlords. Since the last budget Housing benefit Support for young people has become even harder to obtain. The new announcement in the Budget this year of an increase in the Minimum Wage does not apply to under 25 year olds  and so unable to earn enough or fund accommodation through benefits many young people in Frome find themselves in this situation. Luckily Tom had heard that Routes at Mendip YMCA might help so he visited them in Palmer Street in Frome in to see if they could.

Tom himself on talking about his experience says:

“Routes /Mendip YMCA and the Fair Frome Food Bank have been a massive help, I don’t know what I’d do without them, when I first saw them I was losing my flat as the landlord didn’t want someone on housing benefit living there as they could get more rent from someone else. They gave me resettlement support, helped me with my benefits. When I started work I was doing really well, but not long after I was laid off. I had to make a claim for Universal Credit, this took over 6 weeks to get paid, and even then I didn’t get paid rent for the first two weeks of my claim. Routes supported me with food from the Fair Frome Food Bank while I was waiting, and somewhere to go to get job help. I volunteered and because of this experience got work in a café.  I’m now working and earning, I still volunteer in Routes when I can on my days off.”

Talking about his future Tom says:

” I still feel worried about having to go on benefits again as I don’t think I’d manage not being paid for that long again”

It’s easy to think that Tom was fortunate that he knew about Routes who are one of the referrers to the Fair Frome Food Bank. However for many young people who for reasons largely beyond their own control are unaware of such services the future is even tougher. Mendip YMCA has helped 300 young people who have found themselves homeless or threatened with homelessness in the past year alone.

Fair Frome provides practical support for people in need through the Frome Food Bank, Community Dining and other practical projects. We also campaign against the causes of poverty and inequality. If you want to support us in our work to assist people like Tom and sign up to donate an amount however small every month, please take a look at our Fair Frome Page on Local Giving  at https://localgiving.com/charity/fairfrome .

If you would like more information about the Mendip YMCA contact: admin@mendipymca.org.uk or visit Routes in Palmer Street Frome.

 

Case Study 3:

Clare’s Story

“Today we focus on a young woman and her children faced with a crisis and the range of barriers she faced when her circumstances changed. She has presented at Frome CAB who are currently working with her to find solutions:

“Clare is a single parent with two children aged 8 and one just turned five years old. Clare was receiving income support, child benefit, child tax credits, housing benefit and council tax support. She lives in a village outside of Frome and needs to take a bus to get into town.

“When her youngest child turned five she was no longer eligible for income support and had to make a claim for job seeker’s allowance. Her income support stopped and because of this her housing benefit and council tax support was suspended by the local authority until she provided them with details of her new income. She has 28 days to do this.

“She has to give evidence to the local authority to show she is not receiving any income from the DWP which means she has to visit her bank to get at least one month’s bank statements. Her nearest bank branch is in Trowbridge.

“She now has to wait while the Department of Work and Pensions process her new claim for JSA. When this happens she will again have to provide evidence to the local authority of her new income.

“While her council tax reduction is suspended she is still liable to make payments for her council tax. She was late with her first payment of council tax and now because she has not paid a second time, she has received a letter stating she is now due for all of the year’s council tax and needs to make a payment in full or contact the council and make an arrangement to pay. The council want this all paid by the end of the financial year or they will take her to court and seek a liability order which adds £70 to the bill.

“She has also received a letter from her housing association stating that they have been advised that she is not receiving housing benefit so she will now have to pay the full rent and to contact them to make arrangements for payment.

“She has an appointment to visit the job centre to see an adviser and to provide proof of who she is and to agree a job seeking agreement. She was late for this appointment because she tried to call all the government organisations to tell them what is happening (ie report a change of circumstances as per requirements). Because she was late, she could not see her job centre adviser. She is told to come back the next day which she agrees to.

“When she gets home, she realises that she does not have the bus fare to get in the next day. She does not have any family in the village and no-one can give her a lift. She has to use what little of her child tax credits she has left for this but it means she cannot buy all the food she has budgeted for.

“When she arrives at the DWP they take her information and she agrees a jobseeking agreement but they advise her that they have to make a report and state she missed her original appointment and for this they may sanction her benefit for four weeks. It also means that it might affect how long it takes to process her current claim. She does not realise that she can ask for an advance payment of benefit and jobcentre+ staff do not inform her of this.

“Clare has used her child benefit and child tax credits to pay for the buses to come into CAB and other essential appointments while she waits for the DWP to put her benefit into payment. Therefore she does not have enough to properly feed herself and her children and heat the house. The CAB are currently working with Clare and many other clients like her in Frome and surrounding villages.

“Fair Frome provides practical support for people in need through the Frome Food Bank, Community Dining and other practical projects. We also campaign against the causes of poverty and inequality. If you want to support us in our work to assist people like Clare and sign up to donate an amount however small every month, please take a look at our Fair Frome Page on Local Giving  at https://localgiving.com/charity/fairfrome

 

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