Millions claimed in 'lost' benefits

Barnsley Town Hall
Barnsley Town Hall
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One small advice project covering communities across north Barnsley is responsible for residents clawing back more than £3m in benefits that would otherwise have gone unclaimed in the space of just two years.

In addition, advisors have assisted residents in getting debts valued at a total approaching £500,000 re-assessed to make them more manageable.

The success of the scheme, which is provided as a joint enterprise by the Citizens Advice Bureau and an organisation called DIAL, illustrates the level of help needed by many to deal with financial issues and the figures involved have “astounded” the council official responsible for managing the scheme.

Barnsley’s North Area Council, which has a budget from Barnsley Council to fund projects which help the district, set up the scheme in September 2015 and it has been enormously successful since then, with advisors helping residents claim almost £282,000 in benefits which would have otherwise gone unclaimed in the last three months alone.

More than half of those involved were given help to fill in claim forms and more people were given assistance in renegotiating debts, to a value of £118,000.

It means that numbers of people who have been helped over the life of the scheme is now nudging 2,200 and North Area Council manager Rosie Adams said: “This project continues to astound me in benefit cases, people claiming what they are entitled to and the value of debt they have manage to get written off for clients.”

There had been 289 clients in the last three months documented, “really significant numbers”, she said.

Coun Roy Miller added: “What the figures don’t show is the stress and pressure people are under. This has been positive for the council wards in the north area.”

The project has helped with more than benefits and debt issues, however, with a report to councillors stating: “The majority of those clients came to seek help with benefits issues, but we have also seen high numbers of clients requiring assistance with relationship, debt and consumer issues.

“Results from our feedback survey show that intervention from this project has helped to reduce stress and improve clients’ health and wellbeing.

“The results showed that 96 per cent of survey respondents felt less anxious after seeing the advisor.

*One in four fines issued for littering and dog fouling in north Barnsley have gone unpaid, latest statistics show.

Officers are provided by the company Kingdom and work on behalf of the North Area Council, with a remit to issue fixed penalties for littering and dog fouling, as well as parking offences though those fines are collected through a different system.

Latest figures for councillors show that 76 per cent of fines have resulted in payment so far, though a report to councillors states that when cases are pursued to court there has been a 99 per cent success rate in securing a prosecution.

A report to councillors also states that officers were “spending more time concentrating on the dog fouling element of our work”, though statistics for the last three months of 2017 show only five people were caught for that offence, compared to 262 for littering.

Overall revenue from dog fouling and littering fines in those three months was a little more than £10,000.