Making decisions to move home or change utility provider can be hard work and for some older people it can simply be too much.
The different processes, prices, range of suppliers, can be daunting when on your own, have not done it for years, or on a limited income, so that not making expensive mistakes is even more important.
The place to get assistance may be FirstStop.
FirstStop is a free, independent, information and advice service for older people, their families and carers, and aims to help older people make informed decisions about their housing options and support, and to help them maintain independent living in later life. The service is provided through a dedicated telephone line and website. After 2 years of operation FirstStop is delivering information to increasing numbers - currently 130,000 in a year - of older people and families.
As part of the Coalition government’s commitment to help protect older and vulnerable people, the Department for Communities and Local Government has today confirmed funding of £1.5 million over 2 years in 2011 to 2012 and 2012 to 2013 for FirstStop.
Announcing funding for First Stop, Communities Minister Bob Neill said:
“As we all get older, we still want to retain our independence and our home and it is one of the Coalition government’s aims to enable people to do this.
“But we all know that housing choices in later life are often complex and so the government is helping by supporting the provision of information and advice from those best able to provide it. That is why today I am announcing the £1.5 million funding for First Stop.”
One of the people whom First Stop has helped is Stourport resident Susan Albert.
Living in a crumbling home was the situation of 64 year-old Susan Albert in Stourport. She had no working cooking or bathing facilities and only one coal fire providing the heat. Mrs Albert had lived there for 30 years, but was now sleeping on the sofa downstairs and eating all her meals at the local cafe, or relying on cuppa-soups. Widowed a year earlier, and not in good health, she was now on her own as her 2 children had long ago moved away from the area and were not able to help her.
Fortunately a friend thinking that a home improvement loan might help approached the local Care and Repair Agency, who put her in touch with First Stop.
FirstStop Advice worker Elisa Steery* set up a meeting with Susan Albert at the local cafe, and they talked about what Susan would really like to do about her home and started to explore her options. Mrs Albert explained that she would prefer to downsize to live in a more manageable modernised property. Coping with the building works that her home clearly needed would be hard for her to do.
Elisa helped her to organise a survey on her home, which revealed that it failed on all four counts of the Decent Homes Standard. As a result Mrs Albert joined the local choice-based lettings scheme in a priority band.
Working with the local housing association, Elisa helped Mrs Albert bid for ground floor flats in the area as they became available. Elisa also turned ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to find the deeds to the family home, and then helped get it to auction via a local estate agent. Once Mrs Albert’s old property has been sold at auction, Elisa will organise for a FirstStop financial adviser to visit to discuss the best options for investing her capital.
Mrs Albert has now moved to a ground floor apartment with a level access shower, in a good location with easy access to shops and a GP surgery. Elisa has ensured that Susan Albert is getting all the social support benefits to which she is entitled and helped her to organise changes of address and swap accounts for gas and electric.
Using the government funds FirstStop will develop sustainable revenue streams and achieve independence from public funding. It will continue to develop partnerships with local authorities, charities and home improvement agencies, to offer an integrated casework service ’support to move’ (often called downsizing) service to more vulnerable clients, and to provide a phone support service for clients who can be helped without this more intensive face-to-face support. It will also continue to train housing and other professionals to offer integrated housing, care and finance advice to older people, their families and carers; and to develop peer-to-peer advice skills among older volunteers through, for examples, partnerships with local older people’s forums.
FirstStop’s advice line: 0800 377 7070
FirstStop’s website: www.firststopadvice.org.uk
*Names have been changed to protect the vulnerable