Most vulnerable finding 
it harder, says advocate

Coun Bill Barrow.
Coun Bill Barrow.

A Fleetwood-based service which helps people with 
benefit difficulties and other issues is being inundated with cases.

The voluntary-run Fylde Coast Christian Advocacy group is hoping to attain charitable 
status so it can apply for grants to help cover its costs.

Based at the Fleetwood Town Council offices on Poulton Road, the advocacy group is a support unit which works with advice teams from the Citizens Advice Bureau, NCompass and Health Direct.

It has dealt with more than 200 cases since being formed 18 months ago.

Fleetwood man Bill Barrow, who heads the service, says the advocacy volunteers are working with vulnerable people who are being caught up in the Government’s tougher stance on benefit conditions.

He said: “We are coming across some extreme cases where people are struggling to cope.

“In one case a man with liver cancer who needed a transplant was told by the benefit health assessors his condition was not serious enough for him to merit a benefit allowance known as the Personal Independent Payment.

“It took intervention from MP Eric Ollerenshaw to help him get it, after being in dire finances for months. Sadly he died not long after.

“There are a worrying number of people at the end of their tether.”

The volunteers do not hand out advice to people, but refer them to groups like the CAB, which now has a service in the same building.

Mr Barrow – also a Fleetwood Town councillor – said: “We write letters on behalf of people needing help, speak for them at tribunals and occasionally court hearings and attend medical assessments for benefits, which can often be daunting.

“Many of our cases concern people who have been issued with sanctions by the benefits agencies because they have missed appointments or are struggling to apply for jobs because they don’t have computers.

“When they are hit by sanctions, these people have scarcely any money to live on and have to rely on food banks.

“Other are faced with menacing bailiffs sent by councils or utility firms. We are non-political, but I am finding that the most vulnerable people are the ones suffering from this harder line.”

Mr Barrow says 60 per cent of the group’s cases come from Fleetwood.

He added: “We have four advocates, two administrative support workers and a research assistant, all working voluntarily, five days a week.

“There are some terrible stories out there.”

To contact the advocacy team, call (01253) 850000 or 07887 623378