London Councils case study – Quarter 15 Case Study – Supporting the development and sustainability of the Westminster Advice Forum

The London Councils-funded Stronger Organisations Benefiting London(ers) (SOBeL) programme has supported the Westminster Advice Forum, enabling forum members to engage with key stakeholders such as Westminster City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions.

As a result of SOBeL work focused on identifying the root causes of demand for advice, Dalibor Warburton (AdviceUK Development Consultant) was invited by Citizens Advice Westminster to provide targeted support to the Westminster Advice Forum, a regular meeting of organisations providing free and independent social welfare advice in the borough.  Previously funded by Trust for London, the forum was looking for support to facilitate meetings and develop meeting agendas that would address the core challenges facing those with an interest in advice provision.

We refreshed and updated the forum’s mailing list, seeking to expand its reach both in terms of number of organisations and in terms of visibility within organisations (for example, by including advice service managers as well as chief executive officers in mailings).  We identified an opportunity to work more closely with the local authority, which led to the provision of additional options for the forum’s meeting venue: the local authority’s principal policy officer (with responsibility for advice service performance) kindly offered to provide a regular venue free of charge.  This had previously been a problem when convening forum meetings.  Development of the forum’s mailing list and support with production of minutes and agendas has made it easier for information to be exchanged, for example sharing opportunities for additional funding to supplement current advice provision.  Forum members and participating speakers have appreciated the opportunity to publicise their work and be alerted to new opportunities, with feedback comments including: “Your e-mail is packed with useful stuff”, “It was a very useful session” and “I do appreciate your help”.

A number of speakers have attended recent forum meetings, including representatives from NHS Central London Clinical Commissioning Group, NHS England (representing the Social Prescribing Network) and, on two occasions the DWP (DWP North and West London).  During the current quarter and following the September meeting of the forum, we have been assisting forum members to engage in market testing activities related to recommissioning of advice services in the borough and preparing for the impact of the November changes to the benefit cap.  We have also begun to address the issue of unmet need for translation and interpreting services when giving advice to residents whose first language is not English.

We are currently preparing an event scheduled for mid-January 2017 that will examine how we can build on existing relationships with the DWP, Westminster City Council and commissioners and providers of health and care services in the borough.  In particular, we will consider how advice services can be part of the council’s challenging aspiration to significantly reduce the number who are long-term unemployed: typically, residents in receipt of working-age disability benefits.

Additional information:

Name of Project: Stronger Organisations-Benefiting London(ers) SoBe

Address of Project: AdviceUK, 101E, Universal House, 88-94 Wentworth Street, London E1 7SA

Named contact: Wesley Harcourt – Senior Development Consultant

Telephone No:      0300 777 0107

Email:         wesley.harcourt@adviceuk.org.uk

Website (relating to the project):    http://www.adviceuk.org.uk/london/

  1. Project aims and objectives:

Our activities meet the aims of priority 4 by working to achieve the following:

  • Supporting diversification of funding, self-sustaining income generation and social enterprise
  • Managers who are more skilled to lead their organisations to be better able to respond to service delivery demands
  • More effective use of the data collection methods to present a more dynamic picture of impact made for Londoners
  • Agencies working more effectively through collaboration and the sharing of good practice, access to information and developing social policy

As a result the advice sector will be in a much stronger position to deal more effectively with the problems faced by Londoners as a result of the welfare changes, high levels of unemployment and low wage employment and others on fixed incomes, such as pensioners.

  1. Funding details: £507,632 over two years from London Councils to support London’s community and voluntary organisations
  2. Main beneficiaries: Community and voluntary organisations of all London boroughs
  3. Outcomes: Development & Sustainability, Strategy & Partnership, Equalities & Diversity
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