Welfare Officer Update
Sean Williams looks back on his first eight months in the job.
It’s mid-June, the sun is almost shining and summer feels like it’s just around the corner. I can’t believe it’s almost eight months since I started working for the Canal & River Trust.
My role as the Trust’s Welfare Officer is to put in place a signposting support system for vulnerable boaters, to ensure that the advice and support they get is consistent.
I’ve been busy carrying out some research to see what some of the issues and concerns are. I wanted to experience as much as I could and I thought a hands-on approach was the best way.
I’ve spent time with internal teams, external agencies, boating organisations, local authorities, the Department for Work and Pensions, housing benefit teams and enforcement officers. I’ve met a number of vulnerable boaters and walked a fair few miles along the towpath (my muscles have only just stopped complaining). I’ve met with the Waterways Chaplaincy and I’ve even been out on a few narrowboats. On top of that I’ve met with or spoken to national charities like Thames Reach, Citizens Advice and Turn 2 Us, and outreach teams like Julian House in Bath. I’ve also looked at old cases to get a better understanding of the issues and, more importantly, I have met with lots of boaters to discuss their concerns. The research was interesting and informative and I saw that a lot of good work goes unnoticed, both internally and externally, despite some very good, compassionate solutions being found. That said, there are areas we can improve on and that’s part of the reason I’m here.
So what is my role in this? Primarily, I will be working on building support networks and relationships with relevant support agencies and partners, and getting this information to our local teams so that they can correctly signpost people to the places that can help. A key part of my role is to improve partnership working, so that when signposting is offered, the relevant support network knows what its responsibilities are. In between meetings, I’ve reviewed or advised on 70 cases since I started: 35 have been resolved (without the need for legal action) and 35 are still ‘live’. I want to share some of the issues that came up and how they were resolved.
· We helped a boater who no longer wanted to live on a boat but didn’t know how to get housing on land. The boater was signposted to the Citizens Advice Bureau and I liaised with the local authority, which didn’t have much experience with the boating world. Further support networks were also engaged and the boater was happily re-housed.
· We signposted a boater, who wanted help to stop drinking, to a charity called Turning Point (www.turning-point.co.uk) which specialises in helping people to make a change in their life. The boater is working with them and has seen a big change in (his/her) health, wellbeing and financial situation.
· Several backdated claims for benefits were paid to boaters. We engaged the Waterways Chaplains to help with applications and they supported the boaters through challenging decisions: this proved effective as the claims were then processed, backdated and paid out. In some situations where benefits were not eligible, we signposted boaters to www.Turn2us.co.uk, which has access to grants and benefit calculators. We then arranged payment plans with the boat licensing team.
· It’s been fantastic working with the Waterways Chaplaincy team, who have been instrumental in resolving several concerns over unlicensed, uninsured boats. These have been sorted out and no further issues have arisen.
So much of the above has been about great partnership work. We hope we haven’t just resolved a situation; we have supported people and empowered them to be able to understand what they need to do. This should in turn allow them to manage their own situation in the future and build a more sustainable lifestyle. I look forward to meeting with as many NABO News readers as possible but hopefully (and I mean this in the nicest possible way!) in situations that don’t require support. All the best, Sean.