Voices for Choices forum Wednesday 25th October 2017

V4C Forum 25th October 2017


Join our Working Group looking at the availability of welfare advice

Voices for Choices members are designing a survey to find out what experience of people with mental health issues have of getting help with benefits. If you are interested in helping to design the survey, or carrying out the survey with the public come along to a meeting and join in.

The meetings are 2-4pm at the Redcar Offices of Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind at 54a Station Road, Redcar, TS10 1AG on the following dates:
• September 22nd
• September 28th
• October 5th
• October 11th
• October 19th

Contact Mark at Voices for Choices for more information 01642 257020

What are you doing for World Mental Health Day?

We are looking for members and volunteers to join in with our World Mental Health Day activities
Could you help man our stall at Alright Teesside?
Tuesday 10th October at the Arc, Stockton 12 – 8pm
We will be encouraging people to share their experiences of what helped them with their mental health through drawing and writing. No experience is necessary. Support will be provided by Voices for Choices Strategy Group members who all have their own experience of mental health issues and the Voices for Choices Engagement Officer, Mark.
Could you run a work shop for Voices for Choices?
We have an hour slot at and can support a Voices for Choices member or volunteer to deliver a workshop at the Arc on 10th October.
If you are interested in delivering a workshop on a topic that helps you with your own mental health let us know. It could be based on anything that would help people with their mental health; from arts and crafts, to learning something new to exploring people’s experience of mental health issues – it’s up to you. You will get support from the Voices for Choices Engagement Officer, Mark.
Sign up or get more information from
Mark Burns – Voices for Choices Engagement Officer
Email: VoicesforChoicesMark@outlook.com
Telephone: 01642 257020 and ask for Mark Burns, Voices for Choices
Mark works 3 days per week – usually Wednesday – Friday
Transport will be available to Stockton from Redcar and Middlesbrough to the Alright Teesside event at the Arc in Stockton on 10th October – details to follow

Update from the V4C Advocacy and Advice Working Group

Aim of the work
At the January forum members of Voices for Choices decided that there was a need to find out whether there was enough advocacy and advice support for people with a lived experience of mental health issues and carers. A working group was set up to look into this issue to report back to the forum in July.

Who has been involved in the work?
A working group was set up made up of Voices for Choices members supported by the Voices for Choices Engagement Officer.

Who has the group spoken to about advice and advocacy?
We have spoken to
• A commissioner for advocacy – Derek Birtwhistle from Redcar Council
• A worker from the hub co-ordinator and an advocacy provider Middlesbrough CAB’s Tees Advocacy Service – Lorna Laughton
• Two welfare advisers – Sarah Hannan from Middlesbrough Council and Stuart Myers from Redcar Council
• A worker from user led service the Lodge Community Integration Team -Fraser Powell

What was presented at the forum?
The forum took place on the 26th July at the 25k Centre in Redcar. The speakers were:

  • Alan Williams, Chair of the Voices for Choices Strategy Group reported back from the Working Group Presentation on Advice and Advocacy
  • Louise from Middlesbrough CAB’s Tees Advocacy Service talked about the hub and the work they do as an advocacy provider
  • Karen Coles from Redcar Council Welfare Rights Team talked about providing welfare advice services
  • Fraser Powell from the Lodge Community Integration Team talked about supporting service users

What has the research found?
This is a very quick overview of some of the key issues.

Welfare advice
There are other providers but we spoke to Stuart Myers from Redcar Council and Sarah Hannan from Middlesbrough Council to get a snapshot of what was going on.

Both services are funded by the local CCG as well as from council money. Services are for the public generally.

What is provided?
The Redcar service includes a welfare rights team of five people plus two teams concerned with other financial support issues. People can ring up and be responded to within a week. They may have to wait two weeks for a first meeting. There is no set number of sessions. Neither does the service have any targets to meet.
In Middlesbrough, there are eight people working in GPs surgeries plus an advice line. Initial contact is by phone. They then either get help over the phone or can visit a surgery. There is a waiting time of 4-6 weeks for this. They don’t have targets to work to.

What are the current and future challenges?
Stuart Myers from Redcar said that their most common cases were around Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) appeals. He emphasised how frequently they were successful. The general tone was more positive than Middlesbrough, though they did stress how busy they were.
Sarah Hannan also said that ESA and PIP appeals were there most common cases. She stressed how stretched the service is. It isn’t mandatory and due to less council money the service has been reduced. Demand however has gone up. They often can’t even refer to other services as usually they too are overstretched. This means that sometimes people don’t get the help they need in time – appeals often have time limits.
She thought that things will probably get worse when Universal Credit goes live in Middlesbrough in May 2018. Pilots show problems for people with mental health issues. There need to be more advocates for people to help them appeal against sanctions or avoid them in the first place. (Some people can’t be sanctioned but if they don’t appeal in time, they still lose their benefits.)

As part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 people who were unable to make decisions for themselves, were given the right to independent support and representation. This was known as Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy (IMCA).

Independent Health Complaints Advocacy (IHCA) is a free, independent advocacy service which was set up to help people complain about any aspect of NHS care or treatment.

We spoke to commissioner for advocacy Derek Birtwhistle from Redcar Council. A number of Teesside councils have banded together to have joint commissioning services. The current contracting arrangements are due to be reviewed soon.
We also talked to the hub co-ordinator and advocacy provider, Lorna Laughton from Middlesbrough CAB’s Tees Advocacy Service.

What is provided?
Tees Advocacy Service is the hub or central point of contract where people can then be referred on for help. Middlesbrough CAB won the contract for this. They also won contracts to be a provider for IMCA, IHCA and general Care Act advocacy services. There are also other providers however.

Allocation to a particular provider is based firstly on what clients are asking for e.g. they’d prefer a woman or a service near to home and then by criteria set by the commissioners around price and other issues.

Once a client contacts the hub they must be allocated within 24 hours and have a meeting arranged within seven days.

What are the current and future challenges?
Derek Birtwhistle, the lead on commissioning has asked V4C to be part of the e-network that discusses future ideas for commissioning.