Samantha Evans, Fundraising Manager and Zoe Adkin, Casework Manager, spoke with us from Z2K, an anti-poverty charity that combines direct help for people with national campaigning to fight for a Social Security System that works for all. They believe a secure income and stable housing are key to preventing homelessness, poverty and improving life chances for people and their families.
Z2K works to access justice for individuals primarily by helping them access social security benefits that they are entitled to. This is often through their ‘Tribunals Project’ which provides representation and support at first-tier tribunal when people have been wrongly denied their entitlements. For example, they work with 11 law firms and two universities across London to support clients with writing their submissions and taking their cases to tribunal.
It is clear that sustainability is at the core of their work, and the charity offers workshops and wraparound support to help prevent future crises. “We support more long-term; on average a client will be with us for 8 months. We often support one individual with multiple cases”, Samantha told us.
Working in partnership with other organisations is vital “so we can have a stronger voice if we come together”. Samantha explained that Z2K is part of the End Child Poverty Coalition and the London Child Poverty Alliance, the Renters Reform Coalition, the Disability Benefits Consortium, Tribunal User Group and Social Security Consortium.
“We don’t try to cushion the problem. We try to stop it from happening to others as well.”
About the team
There are eight caseworkers who work with 200 volunteers a year- pro bono lawyers, trainees and law students; as well as social work students on placement. With such a diverse pool of experience, the charity is well equipped to offer a holistic approach to cases.
Since the pandemic, there are only two volunteers that haven’t been able to continue and the team has seen an increase in volunteer uptake because most of them are pro bono and have increased capacity. This positive outcome from the pandemic has meant that the charity is now able to offer form-filling support for clients applying for social security and housing benefits; this support at an earlier stage increases chances of success. If the initial claims are unsuccessful then that same firm can see the cases through to appeals at tribunal.
Continuing the mission to work with people more sustainably, the private rented sector project has changed. Rather than finding accommodation for clients, the team realised clients preferred to find their own place to live (to suit their preferences) with support from Z2K caseworkers. Separately, they have also hired a housing caseworker to meet the increase in need for housing advice and advocacy. As furlough schemes and government protections end, the complex issues that people experience will start to come through, and Z2K are expecting an increase in need for these services.
A day in the life
Casework Manager Zoe explained that the enquiries line is managed on a rota (Monday to Friday), so one team member’s job for the day will be to monitor the line while the other caseworkers work on their individual caseloads. These cases can be complex, including welfare benefits and housing cases e.g. contacting the DWP and local authorities on behalf of clients to progress cases or get more information, challenging negative decisions and preparing submissions, or helping a client get emergency support such as a foodbank voucher if that is what they need.
Zoe adds, “We get a high number of returning clients who might have another issue come up, so we’d open another case for them. There are normally quite a lot of linked issues causing a client to be in poverty or struggling and we try and address as much as we can.” The agency tries to give detailed advice to everyone who contacts them, providing it’s an area they can assist with. Issues such as immigration, family and marital problems would get signposted to another organisation that is better equipped to help the client.
The agency prides itself on offering an empathetic, helpful and constructive approach, even if they are not able to help a client directly. They try and give as much advice as possible and hope everyone leaves feeling they have been listened to.
“Clients just want someone to hear them. Even if we can’t help them directly we still listen. They are human beings, and sometimes unfortunately they are not treated as such.”
How many people seek help?
The agency has about 50% returning clients each year and they help approximately 1000 people a year with 1,300 cases. Returning clients are either because they’ve had another issue that they need support with, or the system itself means that people are up for reassessment every 2-5 years for disability benefits. About 80% of clients have a disability or long-term health condition.
Mental health and job satisfaction
With the team all working remotely, some days can be tough after an upsetting call. The agency has an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) in place to support staff and they check in on each other regularly.
Zoe says, “In the office you can just talk to someone but it is harder when you’ve had a difficult call by yourself in a room (at home). We all try and talk to and support each other.”
It’s harder for clients too. Many clients are in distress and their mental health issues seem to have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The agency is looking into external mental health awareness training to better support clients in distress.
Given the team work with often complex and sometimes upsetting cases, how do they achieve job satisfaction? This was a straightforward answer for Zoe! “Knowing that we’ve made a material difference to someone’s life is really rewarding. We get really nice feedback. It’s especially satisfying when you resolve multiple issues, because you know there’ll be a longer-term impact for them.”
The charity receives so much positive feedback and people want to share their experience. Z2K case studies can be found here
If Z2K had more funding
The agency is at the start of a new strategy which aims to expand to each more people in areas of London that lack advice provision. As furlough and government support is ended or restricted, the anticipation is demand will increase, both in the short and long term.
Additional funding would help pay for enhanced communications to increase awareness and to grow the team overall. This would include the casework and policy teams, as well as pivotal campaigning work in light of the health and disability green paper set to be released this year. This green paper provides a vital opportunity to influence government policy on disability benefits assessments, which are notorious for denying people the benefits to which they are entitled.
Through their casework and Tribunals project, the agency has gathered evidence of people’s experience going through the assessment and appeals processes. This means they are front and centre to support people with direct experience to feed into the forthcoming consultation.
How you can help
London Legal Support Trust funds and supports Z2K as well as over 100 agencies in London and the South East. These agencies are reliant on additional funding and grants and simply could not survive and serve people without these funds.
A small monthly donation of £5, £10, or £25 to LLST would ensure these agencies can plan for a sustainable strategy to help so many desperately in need.
Please visit our monthly giving page HERE for more information, or contact [email protected] about the ways you can support the work of LLST.