Since October 2019, I have helped support the project workers at The Hope Project by giving advice to their clients who are struggling financially. The Hope Project is run by a team at Second Step, a charity which promotes mental health and wellbeing. It was set up in October 2018 to provide short term emotional and practical support for men aged 30-64. The aim is to prevent suicide.
Struggling with depression and other mental health difficulties can have a devastating effect on someone's ability to manage money and deal with government departments to sort out benefits. This is why so many men we support are behind with their bills and have debts piling up - 58% of The Hope Project clients are behind with their bills. The Hope Project workers untangle an individual's difficulties to help find the root causes. If appropriate they will refer someone to me for help, for example with budgeting or dealing with debts or helping with a claim for welfare benefits. I always look at what their bills are for, and usually find that they are paying a high percentage of their income on utilities, often leaving them either in debt or without food or other essentials.
Bristol & Wessex Water have a number of different payment and assistance schemes. If someone is in debt, there is the Restart scheme which is a two-year payment plan designed to cover current water use and some of the debt. If in one year all payments are made, at the end of the year the original debt is reduced by an equivalent amount. In year two, if current year charges are continued to be made then Bristol & Wessex Water will clear all debt. This scheme can run alongside their Assist scheme. This is for low income households who are assessed as being in financial difficulty and can offer discounts of up to 90% of the average bill. This means that the men who are referred to me who are in receipt of a means tested benefit can see their bills lowered significantly, where appropriate.
It isn't just the financial saving that helps. It is the fact that they have gone from being unable to pay a bill to finding that there is help available. Suddenly their bill becomes affordable, and this gives them a sense of control at a time when everything is falling apart. It is a step towards managing and this gives them a feeling of hope.
This is what The Hope Project is all about. Once this step is achieved, trust is built. Typically, Bristol & Wessex Water respond to applications within 10 days, often much quicker. This is a quick resolution for people so they feel other things are possible too and they feel able to look at budgeting and debt and ways in which their income can increase.
The financial benefit of Bristol & Wessex Water's schemes and social tariffs are so often the starting point for someone taking that first step into regaining financial control over their lives. It can be the beginning for some long-term changes for people. An evaluation of The Hope Project saw depression among clients fall from 83% to 28.6% after 6 months, and suicidal thoughts and self-harm fall from 94.3% to 45.7% Regaining control of a previously chaotic financial situation can be a key part in this.