Validated local practice details


C4EO - Child Poverty

Providing benefits awareness to families with children with special needs, Devon

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Disability
  • Child Poverty
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Development and delivery of effective area-wide child poverty strategies
  • Child Poverty needs assessment

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Devon County Council/ Citizens Advice

Local authority/local area:

Devon County Council Children and Young People’s Services and Devon Primary Care Trust Joint Agency Team and Citizens Advice


The context and rationale

Background details to your example

The purpose of this project is to ensure that families with children with special needs are provided with the opportunity to claim all the benefits and tax credits to which they are entitled. This work is coordinated and carried out by Devon Welfare Rights Unit (DWRU), funded by Devon County Council and part of Citizens Advice, and involves the provision of benefits awareness training to agencies across the county, partnership working with health and social care professionals and other agencies dealing with children and families, and a specialist welfare-rights/money-advice service for all families and young people who meet the eligibility criteria: a child or young person under 22 with a disability or other special needs.

The Devon Strategic Partnership (DSP) has a proud record of work in the field of income maximisation, raising many millions of pounds for a range of vulnerable people. This has both improved their quality of life and boosted the local economy.

In 2003, a conference was held with people involved in Children’s Services across Devon – service providers from all sectors, parents, elected councillors and Paymaster General MP, and the government minister responsible for the Quids for Kids campaign, which had been jointly sponsored with the Local Government Association.

This conference overwhelmingly identified families of children with special needs as the priority for income maximisation work. As a result, the Devon Local Public Service Agreement (LPSA) 2005-2008 included a target to help 20 per cent (500) of these families to secure their entitlement to a range of benefits and tax credits to the value of £834 each. This was a new area of work for us, and we thought this a stretching target. The results of our work have surpassed all expectation.

These targets were agreed on the basis of evidence relating to:

• the number of families in Devon that had at least one child with a disability
• the likely percentage of these families with potential additional entitlement to benefits and tax credits (estimated by the project team as 20 per cent)
• the staff resources that the available funding would buy
• the number of successful outcomes that the funded staff resources would be likely to achieve.

The data to identify families came from the Joint Agency Record, the record of children with disabilities maintained by the Joint Agency Team (JAT): joint Social Care and Health Service teams responsible for providing services to this group of people.

The purpose of this project – to ensure that families with children with special needs are provided with the opportunity to claim all the benefits and tax credits to which they are entitled – is part of the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda. If every child does indeed matter, then it is vital, at the very least, that the relevant partners, including Children’s Services, the advice sector and the DWP, do their best to work together to ensure that families with a child with special needs are given the best opportunity and assistance to obtain their full legal entitlement to benefit.

This meets the objective of improving economic wellbeing but also helps families exercise the choices to meet other ECM outcomes as well.

There is a great deal of local and national evidence to demonstrate that many people do not receive all the benefits to which they are entitled without the provision of active and expert advice and support. Evidence also demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of money claimed through the benefits and tax credits systems is spent locally, and that effective take-up not only improves the lives of the individuals claiming the money but also boosts the local economy.

Devon has a proven track record of delivering highly successful entitlement take-up campaigns and the DSP has always viewed entitlement take-up as a priority. For several years it facilitated a multi-agency group (Access to Benefits Implementation Group) to develop strategies to improve take-up. Central to the success of this group has been the sustained funding by Devon County Council (DCC) of DWRU, a service of Citizens Advice. As an independent voluntary sector organisation, DWRU has for 18 years provided a training and consultancy service for all organisations in Devon whose work involves advising about benefits and tax credits. In partnership with DCC, it has co-ordinated a range of multi-agency initiatives, including conferences and a range of countywide take-up campaigns. It has also worked very closely with DCC and other partners to ensure a systematic approach to benefit take-up for domiciliary and residential care users in Devon.

Experience has shown that more than 50 per cent of users of social services have secured additional income as a result of the advice and assistance given as part of multi-agency take-up work, with a return of £18 in increased benefit income for each successful claimant for each £1 of funding.

Take-up campaigns work best when they are focused on targeted groups. The decision to focus on children with special needs in this LPSA2 project was taken for the following reasons:

• A local conference, convened in 2003 by the DSP Access to Benefits Implementation Group as part of the Local Government Association’s Quids for Kids campaign, identified increasing the take-up of benefits by families with children with special needs as a priority.
• The number of disabled children is thought to be about twice as great as the number of disabled children in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.
• Local welfare rights specialists indicated that the difficulties of claiming disability-related benefits meant that it was highly likely that such families were not in receipt of their maximum entitlement to benefit.
• Ensuring that anyone with a disability, whether a child or an adult, is receiving maximum entitlement to income makes a significant difference to their quality of life.
• This group had not been the focus of previous initiatives in Devon.


The practice

Further details about the practice

The LPSA agreement specified in detail how the work would be carried out.

A Steering Group comprising key partner agencies, parents and elected councillors carried out the work through the Access to Benefits Implementation Group.

Over the length of the project, the following partner agencies were involved:

• Devon County Council, including JAT Managers and Staff
• Devon Welfare Rights Unit (Citizens Advice)
• Carers Forums
• Citizens Advice Bureaux
• Sure Start
• Connexions
• Jobcentre Plus
• Primary Care Trusts
• Devon Energy Efficiency Advice Centre
• Representatives (officers and elected members) of City, District, Borough and County councils.

The responsibility for providing the advice service direct to users of the service rested with DWRU. It was also responsible for overall coordination of the service and for recording and reporting on outcomes.

The JATs accepted primary responsibility for informing families of children on the Joint Agency Record about the service. However, all partner agencies were encouraged to inform people of the existence of the service and to facilitate referrals, and maximum use was made of media and informal networks and other opportunities to meet parents in schools, health centres, etc.

The practice is certainly transferable to other LA/ Children’s Trust Services across the country. This work clearly contributes towards the ECM agenda and is mandated through the Ending Child Poverty government targets. It also provides an effective means to enable LAs and Children’s Trusts to realise the eight Principles of Effective Service Delivery outlined in the Child Poverty Unit’s Take-up Task Force Report Take Up The Challenge: The role of local services in increasing take up of benefits and tax credits to reduce child poverty, published June 2009. This partnership approach to income maximisation is also facilitated by government guidance Information Sharing: Guidance for practitioners and managers, published in 2008.

Costs and funding
The local authority in partnership with the local Citizens Advice Bureau made sure that families with disabled children were able to claim the benefits and tax credits to which they were entitled. 637 families went through the programme at a cost of £106,217 per year which equated to £166.75 per family.

Phase 1 - Year 1: 2005/06
The project was activated halfway through this financial year. The staff resources required to operate the project for the first six-month period were:

• 0.5 DWRU Welfare Rights Officer Post
• 0.6 CAB Benefits Adviser
• 0.4 Administration (North Devon JAT).

The funding required for the above posts for a six-month period was £22,000. During this initial period, the project was established and processed 83 referrals.

Year 2: 2006/07
The project continued throughout this financial year. The staff resources required to operate during this period were:

• 1.0 FTE DWRU Welfare Rights Officer Post
• 0.4 Administration (DWRU).

The funding required for this period was £50,000 and 439 referrals were processed during this year. This represented a 250 per cent increase in the volume of referrals per six months from the initial six months of project activity.

Year 3: 2007/08
This was the final year of the first phase of the project. The staff resources required to operate during this period were:

• 1.0 FTE DWRU Welfare Rights Officer Post (12 months)
• 0.6 FTE DWRU Welfare rights Officer Post (12 months)
• 0.4 Administration DWRU (12 months)
• 0.4 Administration DWRU (six months).

Halfway through this period, DCC were able to secure additional funding to enable the project to deal with the increasing numbers of referrals in a timely fashion. The funding required for this period was £98,500 and 673 referrals were processed during this year. This represented a further 150 per cent increase in the volume of referrals from the previous year.

Investment-to-benefit gain ratio
Between 2005 and 2008, additional benefit awards totalling over £2.6 million were secured for families with children with special needs in Devon (as at the end of march 2010 this has now risen to almost £5m) . The total value of investment into the project was £168,500.This represents an annual return of over £15 for every £1 invested into funding the project. Given that the majority of benefits awarded are likely to remain in payment for at least three years, there is a return of £45 per £1 of original investment.

In addition, when it is considered that each pound of benefit income introduced into the local economy circulates at least twice, the ultimate value of return against investment could be at least £135 per £1 of original investment.


Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

• Eight hundred and fifteen families in Devon with a child with disabilities or special needs were awarded additional benefit income to an average of over £4,000 per family.
• Total additional benefit income raised between 2005 & 2010 was almost £5,000,000.

The above outcomes have been verified by clients and, in respect of additional awards of benefits for Disability Living Allowance and Carers’ Allowance, also by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). If replicated nationally this would amount to more than £800 million.

JAT staff received awareness training on benefits, contact was made with local schools, particularly special schools, and talks were arranged for parents and carers. Advice surgeries were held at Specialist Schools and local Children’s Centres. Talks were given to parents’ groups. A particularly effective referral mechanism was set up with Connexions, whereby young people and their families were systematically informed of the project at interviews with Connexions carried out at Transition reviews (when the young person is approaching age 16 or 18).

Posters and leaflets advertising the service were printed and distributed amongst the partner agencies and sent to GP surgeries and hospitals. The DCC communications team sent out press releases throughout the project. These featured families involved with the project and provided information about how to access the service. The local media, including radio and television, newspapers, journals and newsletters, all provided excellent support to the project.

The priority phase in North Devon ran from 2005 until June 2006, when the service was extended to Exeter. (Whilst the project accepted referrals from any part of Devon throughout the three years, it actively attempted to generate referrals from each area of the county in turn, ensuring that it could respond effectively to need.)

Letters and emails were circulated to PCTs, education services, special schools, SENCOs, school nurses and health visitors across the county.

The partnership with a Children’s Centre in Exeter led to a significant number of referrals of younger children, often at the point of diagnosis. As a result of this early intervention, families were given a clear income maximisation pathway from the outset. This is particularly important as the project learned that many families with older children had received neither the information nor the assistance to establish claims until years after their child was first diagnosed. In many cases, the consequent financial loss ran into many thousands of pounds.

A similar approach was adopted in East Devon and Mid Devon, in which JAT mailings were sent out at the beginning of 2007 and in South and West Devon, where all families on the Discplus newsletter mailing list were invited to contact the project in the late spring of 2007.

Towards the end of 2007, every family on the North Devon, Exeter, East Devon and Mid Devon JAT registers received a further written invitation from the Joint Agency Teams to contact the service.

The process was as follows:

• referral received
• client contacted and offered a diagnostic telephone interview
• if additional benefit entitlement was identified, the client was offered a home visit appointment with a specialist independent Welfare Rights Officer
• if no additional benefit entitlement was identified, the case was closed and referrals made to partner agencies where appropriate
• during home visits, holistic financial inclusion and benefit checks were provided, and assistance given with claiming additional benefits
• all client records were logged on a central database and outcomes monitored for each family and verified through the DWP where possible.

Agencies now look to build such a check into mainstream systems to ensure it is systematic and does not require specific initiatives. The model is also being applied to a range of other services, for example, carers, learning disability into work, health inequalities and child poverty.

The learning from the LPSA2 programme has been continued into the Local Area Agreement and is now routinely built into the service offered to families with children with special needs.

As we enter the final year of the LAA, Devon Strategic Partnership is now developing a Total Place programme to apply the learning more widely and to investigate ways of changing the county’s approach to financial inclusion services.


Sustaining and replicating your practice

Helping others to replicate your practice

Evaluation and outcomes

After the first three-year phase of the project (2005-08), a full, detailed report was published (Quids 4 Special Kids Local Public Service Agreement 2005-2008).

The service has already led to further policy development in Devon, aiming to mainstream benefit check services into all CYPS reviews of families with children with special needs or disabilities. We are also planning to extend the service to low-income families in Devon through our current LAA targets on tackling social and financial exclusion.

In addition, the methodology and outcomes for the project were externally assessed as part of the LPSA evaluation process.

On 29/30 June 2009, this service received excellent feedback from Senior Research Associates from Warwick University’s Local Authorities Research Consortium/ Local Authority Social Exclusion Enquiry Visit:

‘’We were most impressed by the initiatives presented to us including the work of income maximization… and recognise the enthusiasm and dedication of those involved in supporting disadvantaged individuals and families.

We carried out a user feedback survey during 2007/08 and are currently piloting diverse methods of enabling families to feedback. Examples of feedback received are shown below.

‘Parents we are in touch with have certainly gained substantially from this benefits advice project. When we asked how Parent Carers’ Voice had helped, contact with Devon Welfare Rights frequently came top of the list.’

‘It’s brilliant – the amount of doors that have been opened for me. My child’s benefits have been reinstated after they told me about Devon Welfare Rights Unit. You get information and help to go with it.’

‘We found out about the Devon Welfare Rights Unit and discovered two benefits we were entitled to but not claiming. We found out how to contact people who could help us that we didn’t even know existed.’

‘This has been an excellent project, invaluable for the many parent carers who, while desperate for financial assistance, seldom have the time or energy to tackle forms and formulas for themselves.’

Parent Carers’ Voice

Examples of feedback received from service providers are quoted below.

‘I feel that the project has filled an essential gap in ensuring that our children are not disadvantaged through lack of appropriate benefits.’
Southbrook Special School

‘The only comment I would make is how useful this campaign has been and how amazed I am at the number of people who were not receiving (or were receiving the wrong level of), benefit, which only highlights how important this has been. Also the need to be mindful that these benefits are only time-limited and parents/carers will need to reapply for them regularly, and that they will again need help to ensure that their rate of benefit is not downgraded. The more people who get the benefits they are entitled to, the more children with special needs who will hopefully see an improvement in their daily lives.’,
Children and Young People’s Service, Devon County Council

‘… it has been really useful to be able to telephone Devon Welfare Rights and know that they will make appointments to help our parents. Feedback we have received from parents has been very positive.’
Pathfields Special School

‘Staff were very appreciative of the service, as were parents. Comments have been made about your reactivity to need, your skills on a personal level with parents and staff. The service you have given to us has been very much appreciated and valued.’
Children’s Centre (Exeter)

‘I would like to say that this is a much-needed resource for families that requires expertise and familiarity with the benefit systems. It has been excellent to improve peoples’ lives and standard of living.
I found the process of referring and discussing cases … easy and accessible. This has been one of the best forms of practical help for families with children with special needs that I have worked with.’

Connexions (North Devon)

‘It is one of the most rewarding areas of work I have been involved in, knowing that what we have done is directly improving the lives of families with disabled children’
Joint Agency Team (Exeter)

Tips for others

Key success factors are:

• a well-established partnership involving key stakeholders, including Children and Young People’s Services, DWP, Connexions, Independent Third Sector Advice Provider, local Children’s Centres and schools, PCT, Sure Start and Connexions
• high-level commitment and support from councillors and managers
• sufficient resources and expertise
• central data collation, so that all client data, tracking, recording and evaluation of outcomes are all in one place
• a single telephone number access point to simplify the process of accessing the service for families.
• pump priming from LPSA2 and subsequent support through LAA.
• Agreed data-sharing protocols between CYPS, DWRU, DWP and clients enabled direct mail targeting of families on the JAT register, resulting in half of those families accessing the service.
• Running articles in local newspapers and media highlighting successes and examples of how families had been helped by the service, together with word-of-mouth recommendations, resulted in a large number of families with children with special needs accessing the service.

Key lessons learnt

• Getting the data you want to record right from the start is an important factor. We discovered that over the first three-year phase of the project we needed to amend our database several times, as we realised that there were additional data fields that we had not planned on collecting from the outset, but which would provide valuable information to assist with future targeting and improvements to the service.

• With additional staff resources we would have been able to focus more on profiling and putting emphasis on social policy issues we unearthed through our direct contact with families.

• At first, it proved particularly difficult to set up systems to obtain reliable and timely verification of results of benefits and tax credit claims submitted from DWP and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), due to data-protection and data-sharing obstacles. This was overcome to some extent when DWP agreed to set up a staff resource to verify outcomes of Disability Living Allowance and Carers Allowance claims, but we have not to date succeeded in establishing any verification procedures of Tax Credit claims with HMRC.

• It is clearly the case that national systems (and some local ones) are not working, and there is a need for change to regulations on benefits. Whilst we can replicate nationally and continue the work locally, some system change (which we are very clear about) would negate the need. There needs to be a willingness to address these issues and to make the current system more accessible for parents.

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