Category Archives: Help and information

2016: a year in the life of the Scope helpline

In 2016,  the Scope helpline responded to nearly 20,000 requests for information and support by telephone, email and via Scope’s online community and social media networks. We also supplied answers to over one million requests for help and information via our website.

Your top 5 issues in 2016

Apart from wanting to know more about Scope, the top issues people contacted us about were:

  • Benefits and finance
  • Independent living
  • Social care and services
  • Transport
  • Employment

Funding the extra costs of disability

Unsurprisingly, the number one topic you ask about is benefits. To respond to this, we’ve employed an extra benefits and finance specialist  on the team.

To complement the work of our specialist advisors, our partnership with the charity Turn 2 Us offers an online benefits calculator and grants search tool. Since its launch in July 2015, thousands of you have used this free service to improve your finances, completing 8,100 benefits calculations and over 7,200 grants searches.

In 2016 so far, the calculations have identified over £319,000 per week in unclaimed benefits. This can make a massive difference to the lives of disabled people and their families, as this customer explains:

“Thanks to your brilliant advice, I have had some fantastic news. I applied for Attendance Allowance with the form on your website and I have been awarded £55.10 per week which will certainly be a big help to us. Thank you.”

We love it when we hear stories like this. Another customer contacted us following his failed application for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). Our benefits specialist provided supporting information so that he could conduct his entire appeal himself. He went through two tribunals and finally, after spending a winter without heating and using food banks, he eventually won. He received a backdated payment of more than £5,000 as well ongoing ESA payments to support him to live.

Just the job!

Another caller who was out of work applied for a job at a company signed up to the Government’s positive about disability scheme. He met the essential criteria but had received a standard rejection letter so he thought he’d been discriminated against. We spoke to him about how to challenge the decision. The company reviewed his application and admitted a mistake had been made and he did indeed meet all of the essential criteria. They offered him an interview and he got the job!

Our online community

As well as answering calls and emails, Scope helpline continues to play an active role in our ever-growing online community. We are investing more time in answering your questions online because we know that answers to one person’s query can help many others too. For example, one discussion has had over 12,000 unique page views, meaning that many more people are continuing to benefit from our expertise and advice.

New information products

As well as responding to a wide range of enquiries, we have also produced lots of new online information in response to popular demand:

  • Technology in association with Abilitynet
  • Equipment with Which? (coming soon)
  • Independent living, updated by our new specialist in social care.

In 2017, we will continue to trial new ways to deliver information content with pilot videos on PIP assessments, PIP appeals and employing your own PA.

We’ll also be launching a new information product that will help guide people new to disability, like this caller to our helpline:

“After working within the corporate industry for over 20 years, I have recently become disabled and found the past 9-10 months totally life-changing. I’ve called various places and not received the help or level of service I have just been provided. I don’t usually do this but I really want to make a point to applaud the level of service and professionalism your helpline has. I felt as though I have been treated with dignity and pride, and not made to feel uncomfortable talking about my disability. So thank you again.”

Goodbye to Veronica

2016 also saw the retirement of helpline manager Veronica Lynch who has worked on Scope’s national helpline since it launched in 1990. She retired in April after 26 years’ dedicated service and won a national award for staff with a long-term commitment to their cause and who had made a positive impact to people’s lives.

We miss her but, more importantly, so will the people who have asked for her support over the years.

One parent, whose twins have cerebral palsy, said:

“I can honestly say that I don’t think I could have coped had it not been for Veronica and the helpline. They have given me so much time and support through all my difficulties and battles.”

Have a happy Christmas and New Year!

Thank you to everyone who has contacted us in 2016 and may we wish you all a Happy New Year.

For free, independent and impartial information and support on the issues that matter to disabled people and their families, contact Scope helpline on 0808 800 3333 or helpline@scope.org.uk

Please note Scope’s helpline is closed 24 December to 28 December, and between 31 December and 2 January. 

Scope helpline receives no Government support: £12 can help pay for a call to the helpline this Christmas. Please support us if you can.

 

Being a young carer can be stressful, but Scope’s online community helped me

Catherine is 16 years old, and a carer to her brother and sister. In this blog she explains how Scope’s online community helped her with the frustrations and stress that being a young carer can bring.

Your support can make all the difference. Please give a gift today so that a young carer like Catherine doesn’t have to struggle alone.

Not your average 16-year-old

If you met me, you’d probably think I’m like any other teenager. But I’m not.

I’m a cleaner, a cook, a carer, a homework supervisor, a role model and a shoulder to cry on. That’s a lot to take on at 16 years of age. I’m a young carer, so I look after my brother, who has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and autism, my sister, who has mental health issues, and my mum, who has ADHD. Phew!

I get up at 5:30am, and then it all begins, waking up the family, getting them dressed, making breakfast, giving them medication. Life is a balancing act!

Catherine and her younger sister
Catherine and her younger sister

Sometimes it all gets a bit much, so I’m glad I heard about Scope’s online community. It’s great because you don’t have to join a waiting list, or travel miles to talk to someone.

Scope’s online community is a lifeline to people like me.

It’s there 24 hours a day and there’s a whole community of people who’ve been through the same challenges and understand and can offer support.

I’ll never forget my first visit to Scope’s online community. I loved it straightaway – I saw how open everyone was about their feelings and personal battles, and I realised I wasn’t alone.

I’ve turned to the community many times since then, and it made a huge difference when my brother started hitting out at me. It was very hard to take when I was trying my best for him. But people on the community helped me see that it was his way of expressing his frustration – it wasn’t directed at me personally. And that frustration has gone away as we’ve settled into a new routine as a family.

The support I’ve received on the community has pulled me up when I’ve been down, left me in stitches when before there were tears. It’s helped me see that it’s okay to go through rough patches, and that I don’t have to feel guilty about struggling.

Looking to the future

There are so many people out there who could benefit from this 24 hour a day peer support network which is why I’m writing this blog. I want to make sure other families don’t have to struggle like I did and you could help Scope offer a lifeline to families like mine.

Catherine typing on her phone
Catherine using the online community from her mobile phone

Catherine is now helping others

I’m doing everything I can to help Scope myself. Now I also volunteer as an online community champion, to make sure people feel welcome on the site. I want to say thank you (times a million) to all supporters of Scope. Scope’s online community has been a lifeline to my family and I know it can be to others.

Catherine’s story shows that young people’s lives can be changed for the better with a friendly and accessible community, available anytime anywhere.

Donate today to support our work with young carers like Catherine.  

You could help ensure a disabled person and their carer always has someone to turn to. 

“All I really wanted was to work, so I could be independent.”

Harrison is just one of thousands of young disabled adults who have struggled to find work. Here he explains about the barriers he faced on his journey to permanent employment. Donate today and support our work with young disabled people.

Have you ever felt really let down? Like there’s no hope? A year ago, that was me. Like so many disabled people, I was constantly being overlooked by potential employers. I kept applying and applying for work. But I kept missing out. At first I didn’t let it get to me. But after a while I got so stressed. I started to think there was no point.

“Employers judged me, without finding out what I could do”

I’ve always been a people person. I’m not shy, I like talking and I’m good at understanding people. I love the theatre and have done some acting and backstage work. So I knew I had lots of skills to offer. But, when employers found out about my learning disability they judged me, without first finding out what I can do. I even started one job, but they let me go with no warning. I didn’t believe in myself at all. I felt really down and useless.

Harrison with his employment advisor, Jo.

Everything changed for me when I met Jo from Scope. She encouraged me to join a work programme where I learnt about everything from how to tell an employer about my impairment to time management skills.

“When I finally got an interview with Morrisons I was so nervous”

I worked on a new CV and learnt how to fill in application forms. My confidence was really low because I’d been rejected for so many jobs. But the support I got made me realise that there are many jobs I can do, which helped improve my confidence a lot.

When I finally got an interview with Morrisons I was so nervous but I had a lot of help with my preparations. I practised and practised answering questions. When the interview day came, I remembered what I was told. And I got the job! I was so happy and excited, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew. The support I got helped me get my job at Morrisons. With your help, other young people can get the right support too, and show employers what they can do.

Harrison working on the checkout at Morrisons.

“My life changed because of the support I had”

I’ve been working at Morrisons for 10 months now. My supervisor helps me remember the things I need to ask customers, like if they have a loyalty card. He says I’ve taken to customer service like a duck to water. I know they want me to succeed here because they do everything they can to support me.

Now I’m earning my own money, I’m saving up to move out from my parents’ house into my own place. It’s great that I can see a future where that happens. I want all employers to be as supportive as mine. My life has changed because of the support I had and now every day when I go to work I feel confident and independent!

Harrison’s story shows how with the right support a young disabled person can get a new start and chance to achieve their dreams.

Donate today and help disabled people like Harrison get in to permanent, sustainable employment.

With your support we can make sure disabled people can get the right support, and show employers what they can do.

Tech4Good awards: inclusion means everyone’s a winner

The Tech4Good awards were created by the charity AbilityNet with the help of BT to highlight the empowering influence of digital technology – whether it’s at home, at work, in education.

There were lots of great ideas this year but here were some of my favourites that used technology to make the world a more accessible place for disabled people.

Wayfindr

Visually impaired woman uses smartphone to navigate in station
Visually impaired woman uses smartphone to navigate in station

Accessibility Award winner Wayfindr is an audio-based, open source app that allows visually impaired people to navigate the world independently. It uses smartphone technology and offers directions for stations, hospitals and shopping centres. In the future the project aims to provide navigation wherever you are in the world!

OxSight

SmartSpecs
SmartSpecs

OxSight have created ‘Smart Specs’, an augmented reality display system that allows people to regain a sense of independence. It helps make sense of the physical environment by simplifying the ambient light, translating it into shapes and shades so that people can discern physical objects and perceive depth.

The Great British Public Toilet Map

Toilet map on smartphone
Toilet map on smartphone

The NHS has estimated that 3-6 million people manage reduced continence due to medical or health reasons. Public toilets are a necessity, but with funding being cut, they can be difficult to locate, and are often not accessible. The Great British Public Toilet Map provide a database that allows you to filter results to suit you, including finding accessible toilets and baby changing.

South London Raspberry Jam

Inspired by his love of coding, and his Tourette’s Syndrome diagnosis at the age of seven, Femi Owolade-Coombes set up a crowdfunding campaign for an Autism and Tourette’s Syndrome friendly ‘South London Raspberry Jam’. As a result, Femi has introduced over 100 young people and their families to coding – all for free, and all at the age of just 10 years old.

AsthmaPi kit

But the overall winner of Tech4Good is aged just nine years old! Arnav Sharma has an aunt with asthma and set out to find out more about the condition and how he could use tech to help. Using Raspberry Pi, gas and dust sensors, Arnav’s AsthmaPi kit can help parents of children suffering from asthma. Using email and text message alerts, patients receive prompts to take medication and reminders for review visits.

Read more about the Tech4Good awards.

Staying in mainstream education with a visual impairment

A guest blog from Lucy Driver, a visually impaired student that decided to stay in mainstream education. She knows the benefits and disadvantages of access to education outside of specialist education for visually impaired students.

When my vision began to deteriorate, I found it difficult to access the relevant information about my sight loss and what impact it might have on my education.

I’m hoping that this blog about my experiences might aid those who find themselves in my situation, or are currently supporting someone facing a similar circumstance. I aim to do this by explaining what I did to enable me to stay within mainstream education.

Registering with the Local VI Authority

Registering with the local authority’s visual impairment (VI) education advisory service provides better access to the curriculum for students with a visual impairment. The process itself was relatively straightforward.

The Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENco) at my school initiated my application. After the administrative side of things was complete, a specialist advisory teacher with the visual impairment team met with me at school for an informal assessment to establish my access needs.

I have since continued to meet with the same VI advisory teacher once or so a term. It can be of great benefit to be able to talk to an individual regarding what is and isn’t being done to support you as a student. It also provides you with some perspective, as you are able to discuss any concerns you may have with someone who has a bit more experience in bridging the gap between special educational needs and education itself.

Exam Modifications

A good exams officer is a blessing!

Visual impairment and academic achievement are not directly related to one another; sight loss does not have to mean worsening academic performance.

Exam modifications are put in place to ensure students that require additional support are at the same starting point as students who do not. These can come in a variety of formats from enlarged font size to additional time allocation.

Prior to the submission of the application, everyone involved (the student, their parent’s, the school’s SENco etc.) will meet to discuss what modifications (if any) would be of benefit to the student. Once these arrangements have been agreed upon, the school’s examination’s officer will apply for the modifications to be made

Technology

The uses of modern technology to secure better access to the curriculum are endless. I use the following to enable me to work independently at school:

  • iPad – This allows me to read text books as ebooks, enlarge imagery and have PowerPoints emailed to me by class-teachers to eliminate the issue of whiteboard glare.
  • iZoom Software – This is a USB containing magnifying software that enlarges the screen format on computers. It can also re-colour the screen if needed.
  • Electronic Video Magnifier – I use this during my exams in order to further enlarge my exam paper manually. This means that I don’t need a reader, which enables me to work independently and at my own pace.

Coming to terms with sight loss

A diagnosis of sight loss is incredibly daunting on its own. Adding that to being a teenager trying to keep up with your peers whilst being conscious of the sight you have lost makes it a very difficult concept to explain to anyone that hasn’t experienced it themselves.Lucy strokes a dog under its chin

I do feel that it’s incredibly important to change attitudes towards people with sight loss, especially when everyone you’ve ever met starts a conversation with, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Having these conversations sooner rather than later, enables the wheels to be set in motion. This provides peace of mind to both the student themselves and their family. It establishes the knowledge that not everything is changing and that going to school and obtaining the same qualifications whilst aiming for the same future as you would have previously, is not an impossible concept.

Our online community has a whole range of different tips. Visit our online community today and join the discussion.

Voting and Elections: know your rights and options

With the EU referendum approaching, we want disabled people to have a clear understanding of their voting rights and options.

We know that in the past disabled voters have struggled to cast their ballot. We want to make sure all voters, disabled and non-disabled, have the right to vote independently and in secret. If you are registered to vote, you cannot be refused a ballot paper or the chance to vote on the grounds of mental or physical impairment.

How to vote

In-person

You can vote in person at your local polling station. Before an upcoming vote, you will be sent a polling card if you are registered to vote. This card will tell you the location of your local polling station. Don’t worry, you don’t need to bring your polling card with you on polling day.

Your polling station should be  open from 7am to 10pm.

All polling stations should be wheelchair accessible and support disabled voters. If you need assistance on polling day, you can ask a member of staff, called a Presiding Officer.

If you need to use a disabled parking space, these should be clearly visible and monitored throughout the day.

Proxy

Can’t get to your local polling station? You can register to vote by proxy. Voting by proxy means that you appoint someone you trust to vote on your behalf.

Voting by proxy can be useful if you are worried that you won’t be able to get to a polling station on polling day. For example, you may have an on-going illness. You can complete and post a Proxy vote form, which is available online.

You and the person you nominate to vote on your behalf must be registered to vote.

Postal

Voting by post means that you will be sent a ballot form to mark your vote via post.

Voting by post can be useful if you are worried that you won’t be able to get to a polling station and would rather keep your vote secret.

You will need to complete and post a Postal vote form, which is available online.

Additional support

Presiding Officers

If you are voting in person at a polling station, there are a number of ways the staff, called Presiding Officers, can support you to vote.

Don’t worry if you can not mark your ballot paper, Presiding Officers may mark your ballot paper for you. You may also attend the polling station with someone who you would like to mark your ballot paper on your behalf.

Polling stations should be accessible for everyone wishing to vote. If for whatever reason your local polling station isn’t accessible, Presiding Officers should provide you with a ballot paper and allow you to vote outside of the polling station.

Tactile Voting Devices

Polling stations should provide tactile voting devices.

The tactile voting device attaches on top of your ballot paper. It has numbered flaps (the numbers are raised and are in braille) directly over the boxes where you mark your vote.

A Presiding Officer or someone you have attended the polling station with can read out the list of candidates. You can then use the large numbered flaps to find the part of the ballot paper you wish to mark with your vote.

Large Print and Magnifying Assistance

Polling stations should provide large print versions of ballot papers.

Polling stations should also provide magnifying assistance. These magnifying sheets can be placed over standard and large print versions of ballot paper to make them easier to read.

Presiding Officers should be able to provide these aids on request.

What if my polling station isn’t accessible?

If you visit a polling station and find it inaccessible, you can complain to your local authority. You can find out the contact details of your local authority online.

You can also contact your local Electoral Commission office to find out more information.

What is cerebral palsy?

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Scope helpline manager Veronica Lynch answers the most common questions she is asked about cerebral palsy, particularly the causes and effects of this condition.

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition in which parts of the immature (up to age of 5 or 6 years) brain is injured or impaired. This injury generally affects muscles and balance and can result in a physical and/or sensory impairment. Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood disability affecting about one in 400 live births.

What are cerebral palsy symptoms?

The effects of cerebral palsy can range from extremely mild to profound with additional sensory or learning impairments. The condition is individual so no two people will be affected in the same way.

It’s impossible to give a list of symptoms as each person will be different. Doctors will generally look at any issues during pregnancy or at the time of birth, run neurological tests such as MRI scans (although a child could have cerebral palsy and this may not be depicted on an MRI) and observe the child as he or she develops. The average age for diagnosis is around 18 months to two years.

What is cerebral palsy caused by?

There could be a number of causes of cerebral palsy, such as an infection during pregnancy, oxygen starvation, failure for the brain to develop correctly. It is more common in twin or multiple births or in low birthweight and premature babies.

There is often no obvious cause. Recent research has shown there may be a genetic cause in about 14% of cases but more research is needed in this area.

Who does cerebral palsy affect?

Cerebral palsy can affect anyone although it is more common in boys than girls.

What is cerebral palsy life expectancy?

It’s possible for someone with severe cerebral palsy to have a shorter life expectancy either because the impairment to the brain is so severe that they do not survive to adulthood or because their posture and organs are affected causing respiratory or heart problems. However, in general, people with cerebral palsy will have the same life expectancy as anyone else. Read more about ageing and cerebral palsy.

We want to say a huge thank you to Veronica, who, after 26 years of working for Scope, is retiring at the end of March. Our helpline team especially will really miss her!

Disability Innovation: Citizen-led design that’s giving people more independence

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

In 2015, a new design challenge called Design Together, Live Better launched in the West of England. The challenge was run by the West of England Academic Health Science Network (WEAHSN), who asked designers at National charity Designability to deliver their human-centred design approach in order to engage people and work with them to develop new product ideas.

Gaining insights and generating new ideas

Over 100 people took part in the challenge, sharing their personal accounts of living with a disability or health problem, or caring for someone who needed regular help. Many of these people came to public workshops held across the West of England to participate in the challenge.

The workshops were a hive of activity and the result was a number of great ideas covering areas such as; mobility, personal hygiene, food preparation, travel and medication management.

Selecting ideas with potential to make an impact

Unfortunately only a few ideas could be developed within the challenge time frame and Designability along with WEAHSN had a tough job deciding which ideas showed the potential to have the greatest impact on independence.

When shortlisting product ideas, the following criteria was used:

  • Are there any products that already exist to solve this problem?
  • Does the idea have the potential to impact a number of people’s lives?
  • How much impact will the idea have on somebody’s independence?
  • Is the idea a potential, workable solution?

Taking three ideas further

The Design Together, Live Better team took on board all of the feedback and chose three ideas to be developed further and made into prototypes over the course of only two months. The people the products could help had regular input into the design and testing to provide insight into how they should look, function and fit into their lifestyle.

One of the three ideas was Pura; a convenient, portable bidet to promote dignity and independence

The team heard from a gentleman living with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair. He spoke of how he requires help from a friend or carer to clean himself after toileting whilst out and about. The need for this kind of support can be uncomfortable and undignified for both parties.

From this insight, Designability came up with the idea for a portable bidet that can be used with ease in public toilets without the need for assistance in cleaning.

Key features include:

  • Ease of transportation – Pura is a sleek, compact product that can be carried with you wherever you go
  • Contemporary – the designers ensured that Pura looks good with a simple, smooth appearance that is easy to clean
  • Simple to use – Pura has been created with easy-to-use clamps to secure it to the toilet, and a large button to activate the wash facility without difficulty
  • Safe and secure – Pura’s size means that it fits the majority of standard toilets and sits securely in place when used

The two other ideas developed to a prototype stage during this challenge were a companion walker trolley for use at home and a child seat harness, which can be fastened with just one hand.

What next?

We are hopeful that these three products will move further towards being available on the open market, and we are working hard with the people that would use them and commercial partners and manufacturers to ensure this.

Designability are always happy to hear about your ideas for a product or solution that may help to transform someone’s life. If you have something in mind which may enable you or someone you know to gain more independence, please get in touch:

Web: www.designability.org.uk

Email: info@designability.org.uk

Tel: 01225 824103

To find out more about the prototypes and the design challenge, please visit the Design Together, Live Better website: http://designtogetherlivebetter.org/

Designability invited people to share their daily living experiences and ideas for potential new products that could improve their quality of life and enhance their independence.

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

Diary of a job hunter with cerebral palsy: interviews

Self-confessed ‘geek’ Jessica Talbott has three degrees in maths. She’s just finished a short contract for a great company where she could work from home, but now she’s on the hunt for a permanent job again. 

She’s writing a series of blogs for us about her search for work: job applications, interviews, rejections, warts and all. Here she talks about her experience of taking her dad along to interviews as her interpreter. 

Growing up with unclear speech

I used to filter friends according to whether they took the time to listen that bit more carefully to what I wanted to say. Children do everything at 100 miles an hour, so I never blamed the ones who wanted to move on to the next game. Now, my partner understands every word, and I realise that I took people not understanding the odd mutter for granted, because he knows when I’m being rude – it’s very unfair!

Preparing companies ahead of my interview

Jess smiling, and sitting in front of her desktop computerI don’t need an understanding friend when I go for a job interview; I just need a person who sees enthusiasm, intellect and commitment. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m a bit of a stalker. In my experience, it’s better to email companies directly to offer assistance and to explain about my disability. If they want to meet, I clearly reiterate that my speech is unclear, and that I need an assistant to accompany me in case they struggle to understand at first. It’s important it shows I care about making it easier for them, and not that I’m special and need some kind of entourage. My dad or stepmum help out on these occasions – they are both professionals and are really supportive. I try to keep it from the company they are my mum and dad,  but dad sometimes slips! Besides, the chances of me having a 60-year-old male carer are quite slim, so I’m sure they guess.

Getting ready to impress

My voice is negatively affected by fatigue, anxiety and stress. Interviews clearly stir up the latter two to a great degree if I’m not careful. And if I’m anxious and stressed I don’t get much sleep, so it’s really important I keep calm. The day before the interview is about relaxing; I try to do all preparation before then and get a lot of rest and sleep.

Overcoming obstacles

You learn tricks over the years when you have speaking problems; if people don’t understand something, you re-phrase the statement or use more simple words. In an interview, ideally you don’t want to simplify things, as you want to demonstrate you know the technical language of the business.

I tend to brief my dad on words or concepts that I might want to bring up, but sometimes even he finds it hard if it’s a word unfamiliar to him. One time I was determined to ask an intelligent question using various buzz words, but was forced to simplify due to the interviewers knowing the word, but not understanding my voice, and dad knowing my voice but not the word!

Be flexible and resourceful

Each interview is different. Some ask about the practicalities of you working with them, so it’s important to know what you’ll need and where to get it. Reassure them it’ll all be possible and their company will take on you, not a headache of sorting support out for you.

If luck isn’t on my side and I don’t get the job, I ask for feedback and make it clear I’d still be available for work. This takes a little bit of cheek, but I’m so glad my step-mum encouraged me, as it got me two short-term contracts this year. It’s good to take the feedback and brush up on skills they feel you lack, as it shows you’ve listened.

My four month contract that just ended was great. Lots of people worked from home, so practicalities were never an issue. I could take part in conferences and meetings via phone or messenger. Yes calls were hard but being so junior didn’t really need to speak up at meetings! Over time my colleagues got used to my voice and were good at using email rather than the phone when communicating with me. Once my foot was in the door, my work spoke for me and I was just another colleague. In fact, due to staff leaving, I pretty much had my own project.

Enjoy it!

Above all, enjoy it! I love what I do, so I get in the zone and show them Jess the mathematician, not Jess with cerebral palsy and dad in the corner.

If you would like to chat to Jess, you can join her on our online community. 

And if you’re disabled and looking for work, check out these great employment tips.

Top tips for paying off Christmas debt

The last cracker’s been pulled, the decorations are coming down, now it’s time to face the bank statement! Surviving the Christmas debt hangover is always a big issue at this time of year, so Scope’s helpline have compiled a list of top tips to get you back into financial shape for 2016.

1. Prioritise your outgoings

Your priority outgoings are your rent or mortgage, council tax, utility bills and court fines. You should pay these bills first. Don’t avoid dealing with these, as they will get worse if left.  Do not be afraid to talk to your lender/landlord/local authority/energy provider if you are having financial difficulties. They might be able to help.

Draw up a budget using the Budget Planner on the Money Advice Service website. Analyse your income and expenditure and keep copies to send to the relevant people so that they can help identify areas in which you need some extra support. If you are having difficulty with any of the above, please call us free on 0808 800 3333 and speak to one of our helpline Information Officers or email helpline@scope.org.uk.

2. Maximise your income

Are you getting all of the benefits you are entitled to? Try our benefits check – you may be able to apply for other financial help using our grants search.

3. Discretionary Housing Payments

See Scope’s information about Discretionary Housing Payments and how they can help you with your housing costs if you are facing hardship.

4. Are you struggling with debt?

There are various sources of help available to help you manage your finances. You can seek help from charities such as Step Change, Money Advice Service and National Debtline. Do not pay for financial advice. There are plenty of advice agencies around who offer free advice.

Avoid payday lenders who charge excessive amounts of interest and avoid debt consolidation without getting advice about this first. You can access money advice at your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau, approach your local credit union and, in some areas, your local council.

5. Local welfare assistance schemes

If you find that you have no money for essential bills or you need help due to an emergency or unforeseen event, you can apply to your local council for welfare provision payments which replaced community care grants and crisis loans in April 2013. You can find your local welfare assistance scheme on the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) website.

Each scheme has different criteria but Local Welfare Assistance would usually be considered as a last resort and you may need to access money advice to qualify for the scheme. Your local authority may not help you until you have exhausted all other options including a Budgeting Loan.

6. Fuel costs

See the pages on our website to help you tackle your fuel bills and get help to reduce large utility arrears bills – see Scope’s information on helping with fuel costs.

7. Start saving for Christmas 2016

If 2016 goes as quickly as 2015 then it will soon be Christmas again so it might be a good idea to start saving now. See the Money Advice Service’s information about Saving for Christmas for some helpful hints to help you stay on track.

8. Sell unwanted items for extra cash

As we feel the pinch more of us are buying second hand goods. You can sell unwanted items in a variety of different ways and this is a great way to make money from stuff that is lying around the home. Why not put your unwanted belongings on Ebay or organise a car boot sale with friends or family. You can even sell your items at an online car boot sale. Sell your unwanted gadgets on sites such as Cash In your Gadgets, Music Magpie or your local CeX shop.

For more money-saving tips why not check out these top tips from our community.