Innovation Exchange

CONNECT

Introduction

Key activities

Benefits and impacts

Learning

Dundee City Council’s CONNECT Welfare Reform Team uses innovative methods to engage with people to mitigate the effect of welfare reform, working especially with those who are vulnerable, hard to reach and wouldn’t normally engage with services. Each team member has a dedicated community area and has built strong relationships with other departments, organisations and projects to promote CONNECT and reach those affected. Outreach surgeries in community centres, libraries, shopping centres, GP surgeries etc let people drop-in or have one-to-one appointments, while working with soup kitchens, mental health groups, drug and alcohol services and foodbanks has reached those who wouldn’t access mainstream services. Other innovations include ‘pop-up’ events at parks, beaches, shopping centres etc and a competition based on Universal Credit which encouraged people to receive information and request further help discreetly and without stigma. Over 7,000 people have received assistance from the team, who regularly visit 67 venues providing advice and assistance with problems and raising awareness of the benefit changes to help prevent a crisis.

For further information on this case study please visit www.dundeecity.gov.uk/welfarereform/connect

Theme: Customer Service

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The CONNECT team was established in January 2014 after Dundee City Council was awarded funding from the Big Lottery Support and Connect Fund. A Task Force of 6 officers (a Team Leader and 6 frontline multi-skilled staff) placed themselves in the heart of communities, with an emphasis on areas of high deprivation. Training was arranged to enhance the skills and experience of the officers and thorough research was undertaken about their designated community areas to identify the projects, organisations and initiatives to connect with. The primary focus was and remains on reaching people who are vulnerable and experiencing poverty and exclusion but do not currently engage with services.

 

Dundee faces a number of challenges in relation to welfare reform:

  • Nearly a third of the city’s population  live in the 15% most deprived datazones in Scotland
  • Our unemployment rate is higher than the Scottish average
  • Over 1 in 4 (26.7%) of our working age population demonstrate  weaknesses in literacy
  • Dundee has the third highest welfare bill per capita in the UK and a Scottish Government study in 2013 highlighted that people in Dundee will lose £58million per annum as a result of Welfare Reform.

 

Close partnerships have been forged with the NHS, Council departments, Job Centre and other organisations, projects and initiatives such as Faith in the Community. Their volunteers, who support soup kitchens, were initially hesitant to have an advice service present, but now have a deep respect for the team and the service they provide their customers. Similar support is also given to mental health groups, drug and alcohol services, job clubs, food banks etc.

 

The team provides a holistic package of support, including advice and help with benefits, budgeting and form filling, and also signpost or refer to specialist services if this is required e.g. providing help to access job clubs, IT, literacy skills, and advice on fuel poverty and energy efficiency. CONNECT officers have mobile technology which allows systems to be accessed remotely, providing a quick and efficient service.

Engagement work and raising awareness of Welfare Reform is also a key objective, so that people are aware and prepared for this and avert a crisis. Over the last year, presentations, talks and updates have been provided at 37 services reaching 591 people. In addition, two budgeting courses have been created and delivered, one aimed at 16 – 25 year olds about managing money and the other for service providers who wish to create their own budgeting classes.

 

In- work poverty has been an area of concern. Presentations on welfare reforms and “in work entitlements” for those in low paid employment are being delivered to employees in a number of organisations throughout the city, in collaboration with NHS Healthy Working Lives.

Many people who have found it difficult to engage with public services in the past have built a rapport with the CONNECT team, resulting in earlier intervention when a problem arises. CONNECT also have an excellent relationship with the job centre, with dedicated contacts so that urgent cases can be dealt with quickly. Case studies are available, detailing what help has been provided and the outcomes for that person, and other service providers have given testimonies of how our working partnerships have made a difference. Individuals have also given their own testimonies about what the CONNECT worker in their community means to them.

 

To encourage capacity building, presentations have been provided to service providers and service users, helping to raise awareness of welfare reforms such as Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments. Information packs are provided, as are details of other local services. This helps service providers to signpost people and allows individuals to prepare for changes, meaning they are less likely to face a crisis.

 

67 venues are attended throughout the city, which include regular drop in visits, advice tables and weekly local surgeries for one to one appointments; numbers continue to grow as new projects and initiatives start. The original target was 48.

The team goes above and beyond to ensure each person gets the best service and outcome possible, changing individual lives and also contributing to efforts to tackle poverty and social exclusion across the city.

 

Most recently, CONNECT has partnered with the HEY (HOUSING EDUCATION FOR YOUTHS) project which carries out 3 sessions with S4 - S5 pupils. CONNECT are delivering one of these sessions which is around money management and uses an activity called NEEDS,WANTS AND ASPIRATIONS. They also use ipads with a game developed through our ‘Digital on the Move’ project called "A year of change" which encourages pupils to make decisions and choices while they have to help a young person through each month without going into debt. Early feedback is fantastic- the children and teachers love it.

Although thoroughly professional with the service they deliver, the team members are also passionate about providing a “caring” service, and have created a very person-centred approach. They dress casually to be approachable and give out their mobile phone numbers for contact. Feedback from clients has been very positive and the results show that service users are more likely to engage again in future if their experience has been satisfying.

 

Service users and providers can access a weekly online schedule, via the CONNECT website, to find out where the team will be on a daily basis, which has proved very successful.

 

A short video showcasing the project was created by a local media company. This is shown to service providers and users at presentations and has been added to the website. Recently a Facebook page has been created to give the public and service users access to information.

Engagement being a key objective, the CONNECT team has to be innovative when trying to reach people. A new initiative of “pop up” events was created, consisting of a gazebo and table, with attractive posters and leaflets. Venues used included public parks, beaches, supermarkets, high streets, shopping centres, Jobcentre, swimming pools etc. At the “pop up” events, a key challenge was that people often do not want to be seen at a “benefits” table in public, due to the stigma attached to this. So, to attract people, a competition was created, based on one of the biggest changes in Welfare Reform, “Universal Credit” and an iPad was donated from one of the energy companies as the main prize. The competition leaflet included a tick box for other information and contact details for each person. This allowed for discreet requests and the CONNECT team followed this up on return to the office and appointments were arranged in their local area.  It proved to be a fantastic engagement tool to attract people to the “pop up” table - once there, the officers used their interpersonal skills to get people talking and this made it easier for individuals to ask about benefits and get advice.

 

Contact details:

To find out more about this case study, please contact:

 

Allison Honeyman

CONNECT Team Leader

Dundee City Council

allison.honeyman@dundeecity.gov.uk

01382 431279

Case study added to site: June 2016

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