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Benefits Blog

by Tombenefits

news and thoughts from the world of welfare rights
26 January 2016 at 18:49

Benefits Support in the Centre

A look at the different support available with benefits in the Maggie’s Online Centre and how to get to them


As the virtual dusters have been out, the imaginary floor buffed to a shine and our soaring Cad drawing of a glass atrium sparkles in the spring sunshine I thought it would be good to run through the different sorts of benefit support available online 


You may be familiar with some of them, but just wonder where we’ve put them. Or you may be new to the Centre or benefits issues and appreciate a quick run through of what’s available and how to connect with it.


There are three main ways to find out more about what you may be entitled to.:


1. read up on information and resources to browse through at leisure


2. share with other members - general queries, answers and experiences 


3. private individual advice - to look at your specific situation the benefits that look likely and   step by step how to apply. 


Finally, I will also try to explain step by step how to message me – or anyone else – if you are a bit new to it. I will also suggest a few things that can be useful to have to hand in private messages or sessions with me, but please don’t worry if you haven't got them handy.



1. Reading up resources:

There is plenty of back up information about the place if you like reading up on things and digesting at leisure:



1.1 Benefits Blogs:  


These are informal looks at particular benefits or topics. They offer a practical and detailed explanation of the benefits, problem areas, changes, how to claim, pesky forms and much more. You can see the list blogs under my profile page from where you can also view the full list of blogs. Or you can click the link here 



1.2 Maggie’s Cancerlinks:  


This is our sister site with useful links to other resources and information on all things cancer related. A good place to start when you have benefits in mind is the page here 


You will find our own  Find Out More About… series: that give more concise overviews than the blogs and could be a very useful “see the woods for the trees” place to start your exploring. You will also find useful resources such as the Big Books guide to the PIP points system. And while you’re there do explore further links on other topics too.



2. Sharing with fellow members


Claiming benefits and dealing with the DWP can feel very isolating - you alone against a sometimes baffling bureaucracy. Sometimes it's just a general query you have an experience to share or you just need to let off steam.


You can:


2.1 Start or join a Conversation


You can do that anywhere that seems appropriate to you. It might be that a benefits issue may be part of a wider query or you feel more comfortable posting under  Around the Kitchen Table. Or you may be feeling so fed up by the benefits people that it’s more Today I’m Feeling… 


However, if it is strongly benefits based, you might want to consider starting or joining one under the Benefits Advice topic. You can see a range of existing benefits topics and start a conversation here


I will certainly throw in my geeky tuppennyworth, but it would also be great if other Centre members would join in too, as you will have experiences to share. Let’s make this a proper conversation and benefit from the wisdom of the crowd.



2.2 Join the benefit support group


You can join the "Talking Benefits, Financial Help and Cancer" support group: Members meet up in a chatroom style space and to ask general questions, swap queries, explore a topic, swap ideas and experiences and break that sense of isolation when dealing with a big bureaucracy. 


To be able to join a session, you will first need to sign up to the group. Go to the page here and press the tempting orange button.


Go on, you know you want to :-)



3. Private Advice


But while reading can be handy - if you like that sort of thing - and it can indeed be good to share, there are times when you just want to know what applies in your situation, what to do next or what to do if you get stuck. And the nature of benefits, means that at times you want to do that in a private one to one with an Adviser


You can either:


3.1 request a Booked Benefits Session 


where we can meet up in a one to one private chatroom space and text back and fore. Not the same as talking, but it's surprising how it can work insome ways as a better way of communication. Typing slows us down to a pace where it can be easier to take in and think. And you don't have to take it all in as you can have a transcript afterwards, to mull over, show to others or refer back to.  


To request one go to the list of support groups here and scroll down to Booked Benefits sessions and follow the links or message me. Text chat isn't for everyone so if in doubt do request one anyway and we can look at other options too, such as phone or skype. 



3.2 Private Message me: 


At any time night or day - but don't expect an answer at 3.00am :-). Got a niggling worry keeping you awake? Try messaging, so that you have done what you can for now, which may help you get back to sleep :-).


I will get back to you - usually within 24 hours with at least a quick acknowledgement. I work part time, so a fuller answer might have to wait until I'm next in, for the day


We can keep messaging back and fore, arrange a Booked Benefits Session, follow up in messages , further sessions etc , for as long as it takes to get you to all the money to which you are entitled. Together we can work out the benefit options that apply in your situation, how to go about claiming them and in what order, what to do when you get the reply and if needs be how not to take "No" for an answer :-)


I can support you every step of the way, but if you prefer to talk to someone face to face and get their help filling in those forms then I can look out options in your area.


If we’ve messaged before please pick up where we left off and just reply to the last message between us. If we haven’t messaged yet go to my profile page and message me from there. If you are not yet used to messaging in the Online Centre please see my guide below



4. Summary of this support


So never be alone with a benefits worry. You can read up, share with others or get individual, specific and private Advice.


If you want to read up about things, you can: 


- explore the library of Benefits Blogs  here  for practical background information on benefits  and how to tackle awkward forms


- or follow the Maggie’s Cancerlinks  here 


If it's more to share frustration, good grief or just a general comment or query, you might want to call on the wisdom and support of fellow members out there: 


- start or join a Conversation wherever feels right but possibly under the Benefits Advice topic here.


- or pop in to the next Talking about benefits, financial support and cancer support group after signing up on the page here 


For confidential and specific advice about your situation, the benefits you can claim, and hel each step of the way, we can either:


- meet up for a Booked Benefits Session  – to book go to the page here 


- and/or swap Private Messages – just message me



But if you are in any doubt what to choose from this smorgasbord  of benefit delights, don't hesitate, just message me





5. Messaging for beginners


If you are not yet used to messaging it’s not too difficult once you have given it a try. And once we have messaged once there are shortcuts:



5.1 Becoming “Maggie’s Friends” and private messaging: 


Clicking here will take you to my profile page. The same process applies to anyone else you want to message within the Online Centre.


Underneath my picture you will see either one or two buttons:


 If you see two buttons then we are not friends yet, but soon will be :-). click ”Invite as a friend” first and a request will wing its way to My Dashboard


Once you have invited me as a friend, then click on “Send Personal Message” and a box will pop up into which you can type, your message. Please don't worry about the fancy effects, spelling or anything.


Just type as much about the issue - which might be a specific question or a simple what can I claim? Press the "Send"  button at  the bottom right hand below the box  and away it will go


Once we are friends your message, will appear on each of our Dashboards and My Messages tabs. However,  if we are not yet Maggie’s friends,  then the message may appear to have disappeared into the ether. However, once an invitation to be friends has been accepted then the messages will pop up :-) 


It’s the same the other way, as sometimes I may be inviting you to be my friend. If I reply to you in a public Conversation and follow this up with a private message to you, then the first you will know of it is my impertinent invitation to be friends  appearing on your Dashboard. 


Go to your “My Friends” tab in the left hand side of the Dashboard and you will see all your current friends and down the bottom all the wannabe’s like me . You can accept or reject. 


If you accept, when you return to your Dashboard you will see my message will have appeared. 


Once we get going we can just reply to each other’s messages and you can scroll back and mull over in our growing thread of messages



5.2 Shortcuts once we have messaged: 


 And that shortcut? Well there are two:


1. When we are Maggie’s Friends you will see when you log in and land on your Dashboard page whether I am online, along with any other Maggies's friends who are in.  And under each of our names name a quick send a message. Handy to say hi, but for next steps in a benefits conversation you don’t want to do that 


2. That’s because it may be handier to add to the thread of any previous messages between us. 


Just go to our last message and use the reply box. It won’t matter who had the last word, as reply will always be be to me and not yourself:


If it was recent, then it may still be showing up on your Dashboard, but if it was a while back it will be on the list when you click on My Messages in the left hand column of the Dashboard. 


When you find it, scroll down the message – or thread of messages -  until you find the box for Reply. 


Doing it this way mean your new message follows on from our last exchange rather than starting a new thread. And this can be really helpful for both of us as we can scroll back to remind ourselves of what we said before. one.


This certainly helps me remember, keep track and sometimes avoid repeating myself . It can also sometimes avoid me repeating myself . Did I mention that it can…?



6. Useful information to have to hand:   



6.1. Too Much Information  : 


But first you can have too much information or rather information in the wrong place  so you may want to consider protecting your own confidentiality too


The Online Centre is a warm and welcoming place where we can share and support each other, especially in the open public Conversations or in the Support Groups. 


You don’t know who other members are or whereabouts they live and they don’t know about you. And within that cloak of anonymity it can actually feel easier to share often personal feelings and emotions as you talk about your experiences and what’ happening to you. And that really important support – to you and from you -  applies to benefits as much as anything else


But benefits talk – especially when looking at specifics - can involve your personal financial and family information, so think carefully before posting anything that identifies you or someone else you know..


General “What happens if someone…?” or “Has anyone experienced…? ” are of course absolutely fine. And though benefits forms will ask about names, address, National Insurance numbers, family members, ages, bank details never give these out in the public parts of the Centre.


It’s a different matter, in our confidential private messages and booked Benefit Sessions as these are between us and treated in confidence. 


They can be accessed by Robyn and Sue , as administrators of the site  in emergencies or for quality control. But they won’t go routinely nosing, will avert their eyes and will treat anything they do see in complete confidence. It’s a like with your doctors and other members of the clinical team. If you are feeling really low and could do with support from them,  I may suggest you talk with them and will ask if it’s OK to share some of our chat with them.



6.2. Questions I might ask and why. 


As we look at your individual situation I may have to ask you a lot of impertinent questions :-)


That's simply because the answer to the question "I have/my friend has a cancer diagnosis/is a carer, what benefits can I claim?“ is always going to be "It depends..."  . It is of course totally fine to ask that question, and leave it up to me to go through anything I need to know to check what you may be entitled to:


So here is some of the information that can be useful for me to know about and an explanation of why I am being so nosey :-). 


As your adviser anything you say is in strictest confidence (see above) and I am totally independent of the agencies that administer benefits and tax credits, so the discussions are between us.  


The sort of things that may be handy to know include:


- any particular issue or concern that is worrying you, but a general "What could I claim? ” is fine too 


- a bit about your health and your cancer situation, treatment plans - or those for of the person you care for


-  your ages - including any partners, as benefits rules change during the early 60


-  any benefits that you are getting already, as that saves going through stuff you already know, but I will check they are paying the right amount if you would like me to. They often forget extra bits.


-  any other income coming into the home and roughly if you or any partner have savings over £6,000, as these can all affect income-related benefits (and some others) 


- Is your home owned or rented? So we can look at help with rent or mortgage interest


- who else lives there and what they may be up to – not prying into their wild lives  just if e.g. at school, uni, retired, working. This is because there might be extra amounts you can claim for them or ways in which others can affect some parts of your benefits 


- and roughly whereabouts you live as some bits of benefits vary between the nations of the UK and different parts of England


But please don't worry about including all of this when you first contact me. I can go through these issues with you. If you are not sure what the answer is or need to go and check that’s no problem. One of the real advantages in our Online Centre messaging is that you can let me know and I can pick it up at any time, not just during an appointment.


It can though be handy if you can answer most of these if we are doing a benefits check in a Booked Benefits Session.


Please also don't feel that you must have read every blog on the subject, looked at or joined in every conversation nor got all your possibly relevant information all lined up, colour coded and in alphabetical order before you can approach me :-)


A simple "Helloooo....Can anyone here me? Benefits are doing my head in"  whether in a message or as a post in the Centre will be enough for me to find you and we can take it fro there.


All the other information is great if you like that reading up sort of thing, and the support from fellow members through posts and the support group can be really helpful too. But it's fine just to dive straight in with a private one to chat about your situation too. 



And finally… 


Please do have a rootle around the options on offer if you like or  if in doubt just message me at any time.


The only rules beyond being tolerably nice and respectful to other members are:


         - don't feel shy or anxious about spelling and typos


         - there is no such thing as a daft question in benefits advice 


         - Never knowingly underclaim :-)


The benefits system is not generous nor automatic after a cancer diagnosis and it is getting more difficult, but it is still there. Getting to the benefits to which you are entitled can make a real difference to finances at difficult times.


These are not “handouts”, but simply help that you are entitled to as part of the mutual insurance deal to which we all contribute over the years, just as if you needed to claim on the home insurance after a flood.


All claimants are also taxpayers and citizens too. As a taxpayer who happens to be lucky enough not to have to claim, I am not worried that people claim, merely sorry that there seem too many unnecessary barriers and rules that can get in the way.


Each year some £20 billion goes unclaimed and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to make sure that none of that is yours 


Different sorts of support suit different people: some like to read up and get their own heads around things, others to share and talk to others in the same boat, others to have a quiet private chat. And at different times,  the same person may want to a bit of each. 


So give it a try and see whatever works for you at the time  – but if you are ever unsure or just get stuck, jjust know that I am here and message me. 


Here's hoping you feel the benefit,


Best wishes



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