A special helpline set up by Wolverhampton City Council and the Citizens' Advice Bureau to help and advise those affected by Welfare Reform had received over 600 calls in May.

The 01902 572006 helpline is just one of the initiatives led by the city council to help the thousands affected by the most far-reaching reforms to the welfare system in 60 years.

Among the issues callers raised were loss of income due to Housing Benefit reduced through under occupancy. Some have raised concerns about not being able to move to a smaller property because of needing the special adaptations that have been made to their existing property - or there simply not being any smaller properties available.

Most enquiries to the Welfare Reform Benefits Helpline and Response Team based at the CAB have been from those being transferred from existing Incapacity Benefit claims to Employment and Support Allowance. In particular, callers with severe and long-term physical and mental ill-health have found they have been deemed fit for work under the more stringent test of the Work Capability Assessment.

As the reforms take effect, the council has joined forces with CAB to:

· deliver training and briefing sessions on benefit changes within Welfare Reform to a range of statutory and voluntary organisations in Wolverhampton;

· prepare an information pack about all the benefit changes, what people can do if the changes affect them and where more information is available;

· design a 'toolkit' to help people claiming Employment and Support Allowance or challenging a decision;

· design a 'toolkit' to help people claiming the Personal Independence Payment or challenging a decision;

· set up a group of volunteer 'Appeal Hearing Hand-holders' who will be trained by the welfare rights advisers to help people who are challenging decisions about their benefit claims, collect evidence, prepare cases and accompany them to tribunal hearings;

· develop a Welfare Reform website for residents and those professional organisations offering information and advice to the public

City council leader Councillor Roger Lawrence said: "Many thousands of our residents are adjusting to quite serious falls in income at a time when the costs of basics such as food and fuel are rising. This helpline is becoming a lifeline for those struggling with the impact of Welfare Reform.

"Over the coming months the council will be working more closely with CAB and a range of other partners to build people's resilience to these changes and help them avoid serious debt."

  • released: Monday July 1, 2013