RNIB Cymru has launched an innovative specialist welfare rights service for people across Wales who are living with sensory loss and facing poverty and social exclusion. The service was awarded almost a million pounds by the Big Lottery Fund and will be officially launched by the Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM at the North Wales Society for the Blind.
The Rights, Advice and Information Service has been designed to address the barriers that blind, partially sighted, deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind people face when claiming benefits. The Wales-wide project will support more than 5,000 people who have sight or hearing loss to claim the benefits they are entitled to receive with a target of securing almost £12 million in unclaimed income. RNIB Cymru will deliver the service in partnership with Action on Hearing Loss Cymru, Sense Cymru and Deafblind Cymru.
A team of advisors will help people to fill in forms, challenge benefits awards and decisions and will also represent people at tribunals. People with sensory loss have helped design the service to ensure that it is truly person centred. The service will be delivered digitally, on the phone, face to face and at home.
Rebecca Hailstones is partially sighted and was refused the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP). An RNIB Cymru Case Officer supported Rebecca at her appeal tribunal hearing and she is now receiving PIP at the enhanced rate for daily living and standard rate for mobility. Rebecca said, “This has made the world of difference to me. Thanks to the advice and support I got from the RNIB Cymru service I can now retain my independence and go out and about like everybody else.”
Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Lesley Griffiths, who will officially open the project hub in Bangor, Gwynedd, said:
“We know the people most affected by the UK Government’s welfare changes are those who are already stretched and struggling to make ends meet. Many blind, partially sighted, deaf and hard of hearing people aren’t always aware of the benefits they are entitled to receive.
“This brand new service will help mitigate the impact of welfare reform and tackle poverty in our communities, by ensuring people experiencing sensory loss have access to trusted advisers with the knowledge and expertise to make a real difference to their lives.”
Ceri Jackson, Director of RNIB Cymru said, “This new service will make a huge difference to the lives of people with sensory loss. It is particularly welcome at a time when we have experienced cuts to services across the UK and people are facing significant challenges in such a difficult financial climate.
“A third of blind and partially sighted people live in poverty, many do not claim the welfare benefits they are entitled to because of difficulties in the process, lack of awareness, lack of accessibility and fear of being labelled.
“This bespoke specialist service, designed by people with sensory loss will be run by highly qualified staff who will also be experts in sensory loss. This service will increase independence and quality of life for thousands of people across Wales.”