Reverse advent calendar campaign

The back ground
Many of us love the Xmas advent calendar, especially those with children who get a chocolate each day don’t we? (And just where did those advent calendars go that just had the picture??) But many families are sleeping in bed and breakfast (that’s a just a term by the way, there is no breakfast).  The breadwinner has simply lost their job or fallen sick  and/or most have fallen foul of the failure known as the benefits system and the chaos that Iain Duncan Smith started. And let’s not forget he resided over it for some time before completely messing up the Universal Credit system for someone else to take the blame! But hey that’s just my opinion! Many of these families are local to you and their children go to your children’s school.

It is just so wrong that whilst many of us over indulge this Christmas, so many people will be struggling to feed their kids at all and/or will go hungry themselves through no fault of their own. With no school meals over the holidays and the need to heat homes, the struggle is even worse at this time than any other.  The use of foodbanks rises by 45% in December. The reverse advent calendar is just one small way in which you can give something back and it’s helping your local community too.

What is the Reverse Advent Calendar?
This reverse advent calendar is a great idea. It’s been happening for a few years now all over the world. The UK Money bloggers have launched a campaign to really give it a push this year and as one of the bloggers I am helping to promote it.

Each day for 24 days you put something for the food bank in a box and at the end of this time give it to your local foodbank. Some sites start on the 1st December and hand it in on the 24th December. But please see Tips and ideas below as most of us are doing it through November. We are doing 30 days too so it’s all up to you!

Statistics
The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank network of over 425 foodbanks handed out 1,182,954 three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in the year April 2016 – March 2017. But remember there are many more foodbanks all over the country which are not part of this network so the numbers are far bigger that need to use these services.

Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks, highlights that although the rollout of the new Universal Credit system for administering benefits has been piecemeal so far, foodbanks in areas of partial or full rollout are reporting significant problems with its impact.

The Trussell Trust commissioned an 18-month research project from the University of Oxford, led by Dr Rachel Loopstra where the key findings were:

• Households using food banks face extreme financial vulnerability. All food bank users
had, in the last month, an income well below the threshold for low income. More than
1/3 of households experienced an income shock in the past three months and over 2/3
reported unexpected and rising expenses during the same period.
• Almost half of households reported their incomes were unsteady from week to week or
month to month.
• Half of households included someone with a disability.
• Lone parents and their children constitute the largest number of people receiving help
from food banks, though single male households are the most common household type.
• Over 78% of households were severely food insecure. For a majority of households, this
was a chronic experience, happening every month or almost every month over the past
12 months.
• Food bank users experience multiple forms of destitution – 50% had gone without
heating for more than four days in the past 12 months, and 1 in 5 had slept rough in the
last 12 months.

20 Reverse advent calendar tips and ideas

  1. Think about when you want to do this. Doing it through December may seem like a good idea but if you are going to put some Xmas related food things in there, it may be too late for the food bank to donate. Find out from your local one when would be best to donate, it may want a mix as donations may be fewer in January.
  2. Google foodbank and your local area, not all foodbanks are run by Trussell, many are by other charities and churches.
  3. Contact your local foodbank and see if there are items of which they particularly short, and when would be best for you to drop off the box.  Although they will be grateful for anything 20 cartons of UHT milk maybe something they are short of possibly more useful than 20 different tins of beans and soup.
  4. Remember that some foodbanks also welcome toiletries so that families can maintain dignity and this will last them longer than the 3 days of food that they get too.
  5. Obviously foodbanks need non perishables, but look for long term use by dates too to make it easier for foodbanks to manage.
  6. Get the children involved, decorating the box, ideas of what to put in and perhaps even donate some pocket money or sweets?
  7. Drawer full of toiletries gift sets? Donate them
  8. Share the idea on social media with #FoodbankAdvent to spread the word
  9. Pastas, dried fruit, tins of soup, vegetables, rice pudding, custard etc., packets and jars of sauces, biscuits, tea/coffee, UHT milk, long life juices, baby food, rice, cereals, noodles, health bars, lentils, cakes, mince pies, Xmas puddings, bread/similar which keeps longer than fresh, such as part baked bread, waffles, wraps etc., crisps and other savoury items, soap, deodorant, shower gel, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary products, toilet rolls, baby wipes and shampoo. Think of things that don’t need to be heated too, such as cold meats and fish so a substantial meal can still be had and boxes of Smash that only need water to make. Also, carrier bags! Or conference totes/canvas bags for life instead for more eco friendly use! There is talk too of some Foodbanks needing pet food. If you want to support pregnant women and families with infants see the First Steps Nutrition advice. (Note, Foodbanks won’t take formula.)
  10. Remember users of foodbanks are struggling to feed their families, as well as the essentials, so think about putting some treats in such as chocolates too (think of buying when buy one get one free on those tubs for even more!)
  11. Get the bargains when you see them in the supermarket and bargain shops which will good for toiletries. When you get the buy one get one frees consider giving them both that day!
  12. Keep an eye out for coupons and discount codes for items that you wouldn’t use yourself but would make ideal items for the foodbank
  13. Don’t forget to look in your cupboards for food you bought or were given but are now unlikely to use
  14. If you are going to get things with shorter life span such as part bake bread get them nearer the end of the 24 days!
  15. It was on one of those food programmes about saving money a few weeks ago showing that if you go down the World Food aisle that you will often find similar products just with a different name to that you are used to but are actually cheaper
  16. You don’t need a fancy box! Anything will do, everything gets sorted when it arrives at the foodbank and you don’t have to think what goes with what, the volunteers will sort into bags for users for you.
  17. Consider throwing in some sachets of herbs, remember that a lot of those emergency food bags will be full of bulky plain food, herbs and spices will add some flavour and take up little room in that bag
  18. Foodbanks are run by volunteers, consider volunteering or donating long term
  19. Think about getting your workplace colleagues to run some boxes, make it competitive between teams if you work in a big workplace! Or use it as way to spread the cost, you could also do this with your neighbours and your children’s clubs and groups

20. Great Tip! Shopmium and Checkoutsmart
Now, here’s a great little app. If you go to Shopmium you can get food with discounts or even for free. That’s a referral link, so if you go through and sign up on that I’ll get a freebie, you get a freebie and you will see the offers on at the moment which change all the time. Then you will have your own referral code too. I am using the offers to get discounts on perishables plus perishables that I don’t like so that the foodbank can get extra too taking advantage of every bargain I can get to be able to give more. Wins all round! All you need to do is take a photo of the bar code and receipt and you get your cash back. Shopimum uses all the major supermarkets.

Checkoutsmart no referral codes but works same way. Seems to have more looking through at the moment.

Iain Duncan Smith and politics
Can’t really do a post about foodbanks without mentioning this really.

Those of you who have been following my blog for some time will know that I interviewed Iain Duncan Smith when he was Director of Death and Destruction because he is my MP (don’t blame me I didn’t vote for him). The Complaining Cow Meets Iain Duncan Smith #IDSfail and Round 2 The Complaining Cow Meets IDS   when I went a second time much to his displeasure. I used the fact that I could go to his surgeries and took him to task in the limited time I had. One of the things, amongst many, was foodbanks.

I did let the food bank know of his request but I don’t think they wanted him there! One can understand why not.

And whilst we are about it. Jacob Rees-Mogg is one of the wealthiest MPs in Parliament. He has reportedly made millions of pounds in high finance and is due to inherit £100 million from his family estate. Know what he said about foodbanks? “The rise of food banks across the UK is actually “rather uplifting” because it shows the British people are charitable” and “The real reason for the rise in numbers is because people know they are there and Labour refused to tell them.” Idiocy for a supposedly educated man. One of those academics with no common sense. Or empathy. Or compassion. Or understanding of issues facing millions of families in the UK.

So who is first against the wall come the revolution do you think? Duncan Smith? Rees-Mogg? May? Farage? Gove? It’s ok I think there will be enough of us to take them all.

Foodbank volunteers donate at least £30million a year in unpaid work Foodbank volunteers ‘perform £30million a year worth of unpaid work’, shock study reveals Volunteers do a staggering 2,909,196 hours of unpaid work distributing food – and calculating the value of their time using the minimum wage, currently £7.50 an hour for the over 25s, it equates to £21,818,967 a year; or 55,945 hours, with a value of £419,587 each week. Should feeding children with no food or heating really be down to volunteers and donations?

Universal Credit
Trussell Trust and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau is calling for the Universal Credit to be suspended  to tackle and amend the poor administration in the system  before it can be rolled out effectively: reducing the 6-week minimum wait for a first payment and providing more support through programmes like Universal Support which would make a real difference to people navigating the new system. More here.

Pause the roll-out of Universal Credit, particularly until appropriate emergency financial support is available and accessible to all people left with no income or food.

Quick word on donating Advent calendars
It may cross your mind to donate some chocolate advent calendars. However, for those of us who have them, it leads up to the big day. Most families, if not all using a foodbank, will be using food possibly not even heated for Christmas day. Just another day, no big build up. I am going to donate a load of selection boxes with the calendar box instead.

Rounding up
So, are you going to do your box with me? I’m starting on the 1st November. Share on social media using the #foodbankadvent hashtag to encourage others. If you have any more tips, or ideas to share please do add them in the comments and please share the word wherever you can, it is such a good idea and helps so many people who really are in a desperate situation.

I’ll leave the last word to Lisi, daughter of Becky Goddard-Hill who blogs at Babybudgeting. So get your kids involved too. My son has decorated (ish!) the box but wouldn’t do anything on camera so well done Lisi!

Day 10
A third of the way in. The more eagle eyed will note that there are more than 10 items in here! That’s because so far I have got 3 jars of baby food, some chick pea puffs and some baked pea snacks for free so they are bonus items!

They came from 3 different shops using Shopmium (referral link) and Checkoutsmart.

Day 13
One of the UKMoneybloggers, Andrew, MoneyTree Man (remember I listed him in my 25 top finance blogs (saving, making, investing, tips & more ‘cos he made me laugh with his style of writing!) has made this video. I particularly like his tip regarding telling at least one of the  shop assistants what you are doing and inspire them to join in and share the word.

Day 15
Half way in (we are doing 30 days)day 15 items for the foodbank, baby food, biscuits, broth, chocolates, tuna, mackrel, toothpaste etc
Day 22
Two thirds (and a day!) in

Day 22 foodbank box, cereal, crisps, biscuits, rice, tins etcDay 30
Finished and ready to donate
2 boxes full of stuff for foodbankYou can still do one if you haven’t and can continue to donate whenever you like. You can even make Tesco donate a further 20% of your donation if you donate in there from 3oth November to 2nd December Tesco doing more than their “Fare Share”?

 

Holding the DWP to account and how to complain when your benefits go wrong

Nick at The Complaining Cow

Nick  Dilworth writes a guest post on the state of the benefits system and what to do if you have problems with benefits.

 

Holding the state to account
Having helped many hundreds of people battle with the Secretary of State over benefit decisions which are often full of flaws, badly reasoned and which are all too often overturned by independent Tribunals allowing appeals in favour of the claimant, I am increasingly concerned about the gross erosion of access to justice following cut backs in legal aid and cuts backs in the advice sector.  As a front line benefit specialist we are fully stretched in trying to help more people than our limited resources can adequately properly provide for.

I’m seeing large numbers of people turn to social media in an effort to find online solutions, its soul destroying to see so many people out on a limb and alarming that much of the advice available simply isn’t right.

So here’s a few handy hints.

What should you do if you find your benefits stopped, reduced or subject to sanction?

  • In all cases you should try and get help from a reputable advice agency such as the CAB or a recognised law centre. Despite savage cut backs the advice sector is still there to help you and even if they can’t offer you one to one help you can access updated advice resources which enable some people to resolve their problems by empowering them to follow the correct procedure.  Agencies have proper indemnity insurance if anything goes wrong and rigid training is in place for staff who provide advice, so speak to someone in the know.
  • Make sure you know which process to follow. If your benefits have stopped or been reduced or you are subject to a sanction, you will generally have a statutory right of appeal and a right to request written reasons as to how the decision was arrived at.  Most statutory authorities use fairly standard stock phrased letters, sometimes it pays to ask for more detailed information so you can be sure of exactly what it is that you disagree with.  Many disputes have to be resolved by initially requesting a ‘mandatory reconsideration’.  After this you should be sent a ‘mandatory reconsideration notice’; if you still disagree with the decision you can request a formal appeal to an independent tribunal arranged by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS); you’ll need to send a copy of the mandatory reconsideration notice with form SSCS1 to the HMCTS Appeals Centre to the address given on the form.  These types of disputes are known as formal reconsideration requests, revisions/supersessions and lodging formal appeal.
  • Always put your reconsideration request, request for reasons or formal appeal in writing, keep a copy and send it by some form of recorded mail so you have proof of postage and receipt. Authorities try and resolve disputes of this nature by telephone, by all means use it to speed things up but always back everything up in writing and make sure you keep a record of when the call was made, what was said and who you spoke to. Why you should write not phone. If you have been given a valid email then use it as it enables you to show evidence of communication. Do everything in the time limits, if this isn’t possible then provide some reasons for lateness.
  • Top 20 Tips for complaning gives more advice on how to write a complaint

Complaining

  • If you are unhappy over treatment you have received from a statutory agency you can complain. This may be appropriate in cases of delay, where standards expected fall below what they should be or where you believe you have been mistreated or treated unfairly.   Write to the Customer Complaints Manager of the department concerned and set out your complaint to provide a brief history followed by specific grounds under different headings followed by a summary and an idea of what you consider to be a suitable remedy.  Remember to be clear between the process of disputing/appealing and complaining otherwise your appeal may get lost in the wording of a complaint.  Break your letter down in to concise sections setting out the complaint in such a way that it is relevant, easy to follow and likely to draw attention to what’s gone wrong and who you consider to be at fault.  Set a timescale in which you should expect a reply.  Refer to any guidance of the department as to their complaints procedure.  You can always complain to MPs and other statutory bodies if you remain dissatisfied with trying to sort things out with the agency involved.
  • Contact details for key personnel responsible and for the DWP can be found here.

Discretionary

  • Some agencies and disputes, often concerning tax credits for instance, may be subject to a discretionary code where you don’t have a formal right of appeal. This doesn’t apply in all tax credit cases but for the majority you will need to follow the HMRC Code of Practice (COP 26) and set out your dispute in writing, you should argue your dispute and seek to persuade the agency on using their discretion to resolve it in your favour, it’s always good to cite the code and illustrate how it applies.

Caution when complaining Caution!

In cases involving a large loss of money, where the impact on you is serious, when being investigated or where issues of law arise you should always seek proper professional help.

Just a note from the site editor – heck of a lot of comments on here asking for help without a “please” or “thank you”. These words will get you a long way when a) asking for help and b) trying to get your complaint heard. People are less likely to want to help you if you don’t have any manners when speaking to them regardless of how appalling the situation.

Debt
If you are in debt please contact your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau for advice. Also Debt Camel is a great website for covering all things debt.

Further resources for information and advice about benefits
Advice Now is a great self help website for benefits (and lots of other things). https://www.advicenow.org.uk/tags/benefit-administration

The yourable forum  http://www.youreable.com/ is good. It is a forum so answers to questions may not always be answered.

About the author
Nick Dilworth is a welfare benefit specialist of over 20 years full time experience, alongside his day job in the advice sector he wrote for the popular online website ilegal.org.uk where’s he’s received over 2 million views for his many articles tracking the chaotic reforms of the DWP and taken apart many government statistics to enable people to get a better concept of what’s really going on in the world of welfare.

Iain Duncan Smith
Helen Dewdney who runs this blog went to a couple of surgeries with IDS when he was in charge of the fiasco known as the DWP to challenge him and recorded the meetings. You can see:

The Complaining Cow Meets Iain Duncan Smith #IDSfail and

Round 2 The Complaining Cow Meets IDS

Other sectors
How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For help with consumer rights and how to complain in other sectors such as energy, telecoms, retail, finance etc. do look round the blog and for more with template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!