Growing numbers of people in Mid Ulster are seeking advice and support relating to changes to the welfare system through a new independent welfare changes helpline.
The helpline (0808 802 0020) is operated by the Welfare Reform Advice Services Consortium (Advice NI, Law Centre NI and Citizens Advice) and is available 9.00 to 17.00 Monday to Friday.
The project is already up and running and in place in Magherafelt, providing face to face support to clients who are affected by the changes to the welfare system.
The help includes form filling, benefits checks and tribunal representation.
Speaking at the launch of the helpline, Professor Eileen Evason, said: “When I was appointed to lead the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group on foot of the ‘Fresh Start’ agreement, our strategy had three main strands.
"The first related to allaying anxiety around welfare reform legislation and providing supplementary payments, for varying periods, over the four years of this programme for carers, those with ill health and disability and families. The second strand highlighted the need to support vulnerable people with independent advice which provides expertise and support on a range of welfare reform issues.
"The third strand looks forward to the introduction of universal credit and, following the strategy adopted in Scotland, the need to explore new ways to alleviate hardship.
"I am delighted that we are now in a position to launch the independent advice helpline envisioned in our report, and congratulate all involved in making this a realty, so quickly.”
On September 27 the Department for Communities announced a £2.5 million package of support to frontline advice organisations to provide additional services to assist the general public through implementation of the ongoing changes to the welfare system. As a result of this money the Welfare Reform Advice Services Consortium are employing 9 additional advisers for the Helpline.
In addition a further 35 advisers will also be available across all 11 council areas in Northern Ireland and located in local Citizens Advice and Advice NI offices to provide face to face assistance to anyone impacted by the changes to the welfare system. Specialist legal advice will also be available from the Law Centre who will arrange access to specialist legal services as required. These services are free for anyone who needs help or advice relating to any of the changes to the welfare system.