MORE people in Oxfordshire suffering mental health problems will be able to get help in understanding complex welfare reforms after a lottery grant of more than £300,000 was awarded.
Critics say those with mental health issues often struggle to understand some of the many changes that have been made recently as the welfare bill is cut and the system simplified.
Mind Oxfordshire delivers a specialist advice project across the county to tackle growing levels of anxiety about recent welfare reforms.
Now, thanks to a grant of £336,078 from the Big Lottery Fund, the charity, which has its headquarters in Osney Mead, West Oxford, will help clients to understand changes to the way the system works.
The aim of the project, according to the charity, is to reduce anxiety among thousands of vulnerable people caused by potential cuts to their benefits.
The project also directs people to mainstream services including drug and alcohol support projects and debt advisers.
David Bryceland, benefits advice manager for the charity, said about 4,200 people have received benefits advice since 2008.
He added that the charity advised about 500 people last year and the funding would mean advisers could help an extra 200 people a year.
Mr Bryceland, who runs the Benefits for Better Mental Health team, said: “The bedroom tax is a big issue for people with mental health problems because stability is a key part of their recovery and they end up taking a reduction in benefit rather than moving. We are also giving advice on employment support allowance and the change from disability living allowance to personal independence payments.
“Since 2008, when the project started, we have helped people in Oxfordshire to claim benefits worth £6.2m.”
Chief executive Patrick Taylor added: “We want to make sure anyone with a mental health problem has somewhere to turn for advice and support – and help with welfare benefits advice is a crucial part of that.
“Thanks to the Big Lottery Fund, we will be able to provide expert benefits advice to support people who are already struggling with a mental health problem. “This funding will help people claim what they are entitled to, have support and advocacy through difficult appeals processes, and get expert guidance managing the transition from benefits into work.”
Oxfordshire Mind has offices in centres in Abingdon, Banbury, Bicester, Carterton, Chipping Norton, Didcot, Kidlington, Oxford, Thame, Wallingford and Wantage.
Alison Rowe, Big Lottery Fund spokeswoman, said: “It may be difficult enough for affected people to navigate their way through the welfare financial changes and budget, without having additional mental health problems on top.
“This targeted service by Oxfordshire Mind will respond to a real need from people who are worried about the transition, and provide informed advice and peace of mind.”