The Matthew Tree Project support over 2000 clients each year, who are referred to us for being in severe financial hardship. All clients are referred by 72 diverse organisations and agencies in Bristol and South Gloucestershire and of these 2000 ‘at risk’ people 65% complete an income/expenditure form and submit bank statements.
The Matthew Tree Project (TMTP) services are geared towards early intervention and the prevention of extreme poverty such as destitution and homelessness. At TMTP’s five Food PLUS Centres (FPCs) we combine crisis food support with Wellbeing Services for destitute people referred to us by community support and government agencies although this excludes Job Centre Plus as we have decided JCP do not meet our referral agency criteria.
Money Smart is designed to replace the basic household budget and debt management guidance service we already provide although this will still be part of the service on offer upgraded to advice rather than just guidance.
In terms of money and debt management, our main focus is upon helping clients to make the financial transition from reliance upon welfare benefits into employment, quite possibly into low paid or part-time work initially subsidised by welfare benefits, and from there into sustainable employment that provides financial independence. This journey will involve enabling clients to objectively estimate the financial impact that taking a job will have on their overall financial position. This can be exceptionally complex and we believe the vast majority of people who find themselves in this position would benefit significantly from having support through this transition.
In regard to complementing the Work Wise programme, Money Smart aims to ensure that clients have in place the standard provisions that employers’ expect of new recruits e.g. a bank current account or similar into which to pay their salary. For example, we are seeking to work in partnership with Bristol Credit Union who are about to launch a savings account that is ring fenced to meet monthly bill payments, and we would like offer our clients banking and savings guidance in this regard. And for clients who are ineligible to open bank accounts we propose offering hands on training in using alternative options, such as Pay Point terminals to manage bill payments and cash receipts and cash accounts.
Inns Court Centre will become a One Stop Shop for all TMTP Wellbeing Services and Work Wise will offer clients skills audits accompanied by support to remedy areas of weakness such as in CV writing, and assist clients to identify subsidised apprenticeships and vocational courses in their field of interest. Local employers will give regular talks about the generic qualities and skills employers expect of recruits, and clients will receive a skills and character reference on completing the Workshop.
Also on hand at Inns Court, we are working to launch a partnership in 2015 with the City of Bristol Academy Centre who can provide clients with training in basic language and literacy, maths and ICT. Another partnership we have developed is with Blue Orchid, an agent of Bristol Enterprise Initiative, who offer free training and support to people seeking to launch new enterprises and small businesses.
Money Smart Objectives
- Supervise advice and casework for individual clients
- Recruitment of and Development, Support and Supervision of a small team of advisers (volunteers)
- Providing, coordinating and developing a high quality advice and information service
- Provide specialist welfare to work advice to TMTP clients in accordance with TMTP policy and service delivery plan in relation to Money Smart
- Referring clients to partner advice organisations where representation at appeal tribunals is required
- Ensure that casework is compliant with TMTP policy, procedure and relevant quality standards
- Keep accurate statistical/monitoring records
- Keep up-to-date with relevant legislation, policies and practices
- To oversee the volunteer training programme in advice work and support individuals through the process including the provision of formal and informal supervision; and appraisal
- Undertake independent file reviews and otherwise ensure that all client casework is compliant with TMTP policy, procedure and relevant quality standards
- Act as a resource for advisers concerning advice procedure, best practice and specialist level welfare benefit and employment legislation
- Organise caseworker meetings where appropriate
- Act as Legal Services Commission franchise casework supervisor
- Assist in ensuring the delivery of advice services to funding or contract targets and report progress to the Director
- Develop good working relationships with partner agencies providing tribunal representation services, or other specialist advice to TMTP clients
TMTP is an early intervention model, and from the information submitted in the Income/Expenditure forms, we know that if we had a well trained and well supervised (by a qualified facilitator) team of money smart volunteers, we will be able to spot clients early who need support and help with their budgeting and also those who have severe debt issues but are burying their head in the sand, doing nothing about it.
This strand of our work is not intended to replicate or replace the work of other agencies but instead help our clients avoid getting into deeper trouble and assist those in need of budgeting education gain this essential life skill.
For example, when someone has already been taken to court for rent arrears and have been given a court order to pay £x per week off the debt, some would benefit from budgeting support to help them not default on the court order which happens all to often.
Balancing a budget can be a tricky challenge for most of us. Balancing a very limited budget can be almost impossible. The Matthew Tree Project wish to offer first level assistance to our FOOD PLUS clients in (a) maximising their income and (b) managing their outgoings so that there is enough money to go around and pay the essential bills and we believe that given the resources, we would be able to make a significant impact for the vast majority of our clients in this regard.
Ensuring the (often) limited income goes as far as possible is crucial. This will include examining living costs such as energy bills, considering who the energy provider is and how the energy is used in the home. It may also include considering insulation of the home, if this is a possibility. How and where food is purchased and how much home cooking takes place can have a profound and positive effect on the household budget. We would look at which bank is being used and the charges that are being incurred and consider with the client if it is beneficial to switch to another bank. The use (and cost) of using cash verses direct debit/standing order and monthly budgeting are all considered and covered in our work with the clients. Useful tips to save money and how to deal with debt are all part of the support provided.
Each week we will discuss with each client their circumstances and offer support, and where necessary, budgeting and money management advice. Typically a client will complete an income/expenditure form and then with our help we will begin to identify where improvements can be made. We then stand alongside the client over the subsequent weeks to encourage and monitor how the budgeting is going and make any amendments as required to the plan.
The tools we provide can be vital to keeping a client's head above water. It is our objective for each and every one of our clients to be self-sufficient and live happy independent lives but many have never had the opportunity to learn some of the basic life skills most of us take for granted.
We are not debt reduction experts, so where the expertise required is not available in-house we will bring in an expert to provide the best possible professional support we can through the development of key partnerships.