Community Links provides a range of services to tackle health and social inequality in East London. In this blog, Rob Langham, Grants Officer in Catch22’s Partnerships Team, explores the impact of the Community Links advice services on the local community.
Community Links (which fully merged with Catch22 in 2021) in Newham, East London was established in the 1970s to provide advice to people in the local area. Centrally located in the old Canning Town Public Hall, Community Links is fully embedded within the local community. As the Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger wrote in 2011:
“The legendary Community Links charity wrote the book on how to regenerate deprived neighbourhoods and engage with young people.”
Newham is in the 10% of the most deprived areas across the country. Community Links helps the local community in the face of adversity with their advice service, emergency food support, digital skills, and employment and health services amongst others. Crucially, people who use Community Link’s services can access multiple services at once, alongside a community of people. This is what makes it ‘legendary’.
An increasing need for free advice
Last year, London Borough of Newham’s Corporate Director for Adults and Health said:
“The cost of living pressures has tipped people who were just about managing into poverty. At the start of the winter the borough was starting to see significant impact on services, particularly people seeking help from the hardship service due to debt and increases in homelessness.”
With the rising cost of living crisis, at Community Links we are certainly seeing more requests for help. In the last year, our advice service worked with a total of 1,536 members of the community (an increase of 18.6% on the previous year). Our free advice service aims to give people the knowledge and confidence to solve complicated problems, so no one is left uninformed or uncertain. Our advice service provides:
- Finance, Benefit and Debt advice
- Legal advice relating to housing
In just one year we helped clients generate an income through additional welfare benefits, and address their debts to the tune of just over £2 million during the year. We observed a 68% increase in the number of service users presenting with debt-related support needs including rent arrears, housing and council tax debts, as well as bankruptcy.
Half of all service users seen within the advice service were supported with welfare benefits, the highest area of advice need in Newham. We have seen a surge in demand for food and basics at our food bank, and this is mirrored across the food bank partners we work with across Newham. The need is very much evident around supporting residents to maximise benefit-related income that they may not be aware they are entitled to, helping to alleviate some of the entrenched barriers people present with.
Our housing support involves triaging for general housing advice and signposting within the Newham Advice Partnership for more specialist advice. We help clients to clear rent arrears, apply for council housing and Homeswap, petition their landlord to carry out repairs, and assist with a tenancy deposit or estate agency dispute.
One example of our impact involves Darren*, a 67-year-old single man living in a council property in Newham. Darren came to the Community Links advice service after being threatened with eviction for rent arrears. His benefits had stopped the year before and he had no income. Isolated from the world, having struggled to hold a job and suffering from depression after his disabled parents (for whom he was a full-time carer) passed away, Darren’s benefits stopped when he turned state pension age, and was not aware he was eligible for them owing to his lack of employment history.
The staff at Community Links made him aware of what benefits he was eligible for and supported him in claiming:
- a state pension, which he successfully backdated to gain £30,500, and a monthly income of £830 going forward,
- housing benefit,
- Council Tax relief,
- and disability benefits for over 65s.
In total, we helped Darren claim the £34,317.72 which he was fully entitled to, but not aware of. His income and new-found ability to manage his living expenses owing to our support has also meant he can better manage his mental health issues. On a follow-up appointment at Community Links, he presented differently than before. He was smiling and able to look the adviser in the eyes. He seemed like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
Good advice doesn’t come cheap
The impact of our free advice services at Community Links speaks for itself: for every £1 spent on staffing, £11 is gained by those using our services. But the help we provide is not just beneficial in terms of financial assistance, empowering people to support themselves and their families. Our advice services create a ripple effect, easing the pressure off public services in other areas such as mental health – which is strongly linked to financial difficulty.
Like many other organisations, we’re dependent on funding to continue to run the service and meet the growing demands. If you would be interested in supporting our advice services at Community Links, and helping us in freeing people from shackles of debt and financial strain, please get in touch. We would be glad to tell you more about our work at Community Links, and hear about how you can support.