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Leah's story

On Your Side Advocacy Coordinator

“The support given to clients by our volunteer Peer Advocates is invaluable.”

My experience of working on the On Your Side project as the benefit lead has really highlighted to me the importance of offering support to those with mental health difficulties navigating the benefit system.

The process of applying for benefits, providing supporting documentation and attending assessments is a huge undertaking for clients particularly when clients are experience a range of issues such as difficulty travelling on public transport, managing paperwork and coping with the stress and the uncertainty that assessments can cause.

The support given to clients via our Peer Advocates is invaluable in providing information into how the process works and of what possible solutions to any problems that may arise, as well as being there to negotiate a difficult journey and to support when difficult questions may cause distress during an assessment. Not only have I seen a huge relief and gratitude from our clients as they no longer feel alone in the process, but we have many positive outcomes in clients entering the support group for ESA and being allocated the correct amount of points on PIP without having to submit and mandatory reconsideration or appeal. This in turn relieves pressure on existing local welfare benefit services who are already at capacity.

Volunteers that have supported these clients to assessments have also felt able to provide meaningful support and have deepened their own understanding of the benefits system. Volunteers have managed to establish positive relationships with our clients which further builds faith and trust in our organisation.

The connections I have made with other local minds at the quarterly community of practice has been invaluable in my role and have greatly built up my knowledge and ideas on how to support clients. This has led to important discussion, skill and expertise sharing and a network of support. It is also extremely valuable for our staff and volunteer team to have access to the National Mind benefit line, so that we are able to provide appropriate options to clients with their welfare benefit difficulties.

I feel that the On Your Side Project overall has led to many positive improvements in client outcomes, volunteer skill development and avoiding escalation of benefit issues.

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Currently, during the coronavirus outbreak, our services and activities are running remotely.  We will begin to offer face-to-face activities again when we can undertake these safely.