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Monday, 23 June 2014

Benefit delays - housing benefit

Posting a copy of my complaint for the purpose of sharing on Twitter.

To Whom it may concern,

As you are aware Tax Credits are renewed every year between April and July. When they are renewed before the individual concerned even has a paper notification of the decision from the DWP their benefit changes are sent through to the local council. As soon as these notifications come through the council have the system set up that it puts the person's benefit on hold immediately (a letter is sent to the individual at that stage). After this happens the council work through the notifications, and amend the claims, and reinstate the person's benefit. I understand quite clearly why you put the benefit on hold (to stop over payment) and this system works well if the council are able to process the notifications quickly thus not leaving the person's benefit on hold for a long period of time. My understanding is that the DWP send these notifications to all local authorities, and it is up the the LA whether they put the benefit on hold whilst these are pending.

Usually the turnaround time is quite fast, but when I phoned on this occasion having received my 'on hold letter' I was advised that the turnaround time is 8 weeks, and that the service had lost a huge volume of staff. If this is the case why have you still proceeded with putting people's benefit on hold when you know you will leave them out of pocket, and struggling to pay their rent for a period of time? Whilst people have to use their overdrafts they incur fees with the bank. Other's may be at risk of eviction. If the council is able to choose what they do once the notifications have been received why have contingency measures not been looked at due to the lower staffing levels? Annual renewal is a predictable event, so it would have been known that it would increase the volume of work significantly. Even if you send your paperwork immediately you are still treated to the same delay/hold despite notifying as soon as the change takes place.  

I would like this treated as a complaint in respect of the current turnaround times, and the LA's lack of consideration for the management of people's finances. It's also frustrating when you initially contact the Customer Service team they are unable to give you a turnaround time for your claim (or confirm the date the notification was received) When I asked for a call back from a manager was finally able to tell me the date my notification was received.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

An open letter to George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol - Stoke Park cuts

RE Stoke Park event cuts

Dear Mr Fergusson.
I am writing in respect of the budget cuts for Stoke Park events. We have been advised today that the entire budget for events has been cut, we are devastated by this news.

I started going on the walks around two years ago. I was quite disillusioned with Bristol in general when I first started going on the walks. Attending the walks has opened by eyes to a whole new world on our doorstep.

We have attended numerous walks on wild food, bushcraft, basket making, history, fungi, bats. Without these being funded by the council myself, and my ten year old daughter would not have been able to afford to attend similar privately run events. Attending the walks has enabled us to meet, and make friends in the community, it has improved our health and well being. If you were to attend one of the events you would see how Steve England brings everyone in the group together from the old to the young, everyone works together and feels involved. We all go home with smiles on our faces.

Walking and spending time in the outdoors has been proven to improve mental health. By arranging community events in woods and open spaces you are helping the well being of the community.

The amount of learning we have done in the park over the last year is incredible - the walks have inspired us to take our learning further. It has been commented in my daughter's school how indepth her knowledge is in respect of nature and wildlife-  this is entirely to do with the inspiration of the events Steve leads. My daughter picks up information from Steve's walks then teaches it to her friends when we spend time in the woods/park independently.

The walks are always fully booked, and over subscribed - this is indicative of the need for these types of events in the community. I am really disappointing the council has not consulted on the cuts, and have not looked at alternative options for funding. Stoke Park is a unique nature reserve and the wider community deserve to have the opportunity to learn about it, and appreciate it.

Lockleaze has no leisure centre, no library, there are not many places the community can get together to engage with each other. Children every day are being bombarded by technology - computers, TV, playstations, phones - the community needs events to get children outside, getting dirty, exploring, building dens - learning how to work as a team, how to be creative. This cannot always be done in the street or in town - we need to inspire people to use our open spaces.

The events Steve has held has encouraged more people to discover the park. As a result of more park users antisocial behavior is being reported more frequently, with the police making a number of arrests recently. Through Steve's walks a number of us acquired an appreciation for the park, and have worked together on a number of community litter picks. Many hours have been spent clearing and tidying the park. This has reduced the amount of work the council have had to put into the park to keep in clean, tidy and safe for park users.

I asked my ten year old daughter how she feels about the cuts - despite only being of a young age she was really upset by the loss of events - every week she asks me when the next  'Steve England' walk is. Her and her friends talk about them at school. In her words 'it's horrible, a lot of children like it happening, it's not fair for other children who have not yet been on the walks, they should change the mayor!'
I would strongly urge you to reconsider the decision,

Ruth and Emma Revell Age 10