We’ve had well over 500 replies to our question about what advice you would give to people new to claiming benefits.
They cover issues as varied as where to shop, how to cook, what websites to use, where to get advice, how to cope with neighbours and the media’s hate campaign.
And the picture your suggestions paint is a very different one from the ugly distortions of the tabloids. Not a single mention of food banks. No suggestions about ways to afford flat screen TVs or cigarettes or alcohol.
Instead, your tips have an almost wartime spirit of defiance – a mixture of dig for victory and make-do and mend. Shining through them is a determination to survive without bitterness and without being ground down by adversity.
Above all, they demonstrate the reality of life on benefits that politicians, bankers and the media are desperate to keep hidden in order to make claimants the scapegoats for their own failings.
Having started this, we’re keen to keep it going. So, please add your own suggestions or comments if you haven’t already. You can use the Comments function on the page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve highlighted the winning tips from last week’s competition in red.
Facebook users can also join in the conversation here.
And if you have a particularly pithy tip, you can even tweet it to us using #realbenefitstips
How to afford everything from food to Christmas presents seemed to be the thing on most people’s minds when it comes to surviving life on benefits.
Food from supermarkets
Getting to the supermarket at the right time to take advantage of reduced prices for perishables is clearly something that is vital for many claimants.
“When and Where To find The Best Food Reductions - up to 50% off: Waitrose - 8 am and after 7 pm, Marks and Spencer’s - begin reducing food to be sold that day radically at 4 pm, Sainsbury’s - begin reducing food to be sold that day radically after 7 pm, Tesco - 7 am and after 7 pm. Local food/farmers markets - half an hour before closing time. Haggle them way down and you will rarely be refused as they would rather sell than pack the food up again.”
“Shop together with friends and buy in bulk, you will get more for your money.”
“Subscribe to Lidl’s and Aldi’s newsletters so can keep up to date with their offers when doing the shopping list.”
“Always check reduced sections in supermarkets - you never know what you may find and good way to stock up on tinned food with finds and odd treat or two when bargains found.”
New “Make the most of basics ranges of supermarket own brands which usually have less sugar, fat and salt than the higher priced varieties, therefore healthier for you and your children. What you save on the basic value range can be topped up with fresh or dried fruit or vegetables e.g a bag of muesli can be topped up with fresh or dried fruit.”
Online shopping sites
Some of you recommended online supermarket comparison sites whilst others make use of cashback sites.
“Shop through Mysupermarket.co.uk online, it checks supermarkets for the best deals, buy the basic range, look for deals, take your time you have loads!”
“Don't do all your shopping in one supermarket. I have all the supermarkets delivery sites up on my computer at the same time and put my shopping list in all of them, and then I can compare prices. I have been able to save a lot of money by doing this sometimes as much as £30 a time. Watch out for buying in bulk as quite often (even though it's illegal) buying in larger quantities is more expensive. Look out for prices per kilo or 100grams not per item.”
“Ensure that you check topcashback.co.uk or quidco when buying on line - as if have to spend why not get something back such as on house/car insurance and always shop around for best deals. Read moneysavingexpert.com and join their forum for lots of free information on cost cutting from others already doing it...........saved me thousands in the years I have been on there. Farmfoods (freezer food) do online vouchers £2.50 off £25 spend - well worth printing if off to do a decent freezer shop."
New "Great list ! I'd also recommend www.approvedfood.co.uk who sell best before products which really only means their food is at it's best by that date. They also sell products when the companies do new packaging. It is perfectly safe to eat and often I buy their products which are sourced from Sainbury, Asda, Tesco etc with best before dates up to 2015-2016. Save 50 to 70% of normal retail prices you pay at the big supermarkets."
Grow your own
Some people very strongly recommend growing some of your own food not only as a way of saving money but also as a way of making life a bit more bearable emotionally.
“Whilst on benefits I have started growing my own vegetables, fruit and herbs in containers. Seeds and compost are relatively cheap and caring for and nurturing the plants is a wonderfully therapeutic hobby which results in a great sense of achievement which can otherwise be lacking in your life when you are not working. In addition, the resulting produce taste amazing and will have cost very little. It is not difficult (I initially taught myself), and you do not need a great deal of space in order to do it. Some things are fine on a sunny window sill!”
“Grow lettuce & shoots on your windowsill. If you have a garden, get planting.
Seeds cost pennies & you can grow veg to stay healthy for pennies. Spouts & shoots are quick & easy, and they nourish you and your family - For pennies. You don’t need to plant many - I have a tiny garden and have 2 tomato bushes, 4 strawberry plants & a blackcurrant bush. Lettuce, radish & spring onions everywhere. Don’t plant loads at once.... Plant often.”
We have some enthusiastic users of recycling sites amongst our members.
“Join your local Freecycle and Freegle group and put WANTED ads for the things you need - clothes, furniture, books tools etc.” Don't take anything with a view to selling it though as there are probably people worse than you who actually need it and "trading" would count as work and may get you in trouble.”
New “No need to buy bin bags or food bags, supermarkets provide free carrier bags which are great for putting in the bin and plastic bags for fresh produce make good sandwich bags.”
New “Have you all got into freebies? Some useful money saving bargains on online sites. Put 'freebies' into a search engine and you should get at least 2 hits, follow up and bingo. A further tip do not use you own heat & light to do this ..how? Go to library where up to 4 hrs of free computer use in some areas & the staff will show people how to get basic computer skills for free!”
Charity shops are another popular source of bargains for lots of claimants..
“Enjoy browsing in charity shops! I've bought countless books, two leather coats, a set of wine glasses and a steamer in the past few months. It's a nice feeling, being able to help others, too.”
“The best benefits tip I can offer is to shop in charity shops, don’t just go when you need something make it a regular weekly trip. You will be surprised at how many new items you will find.”
“Check out Facebook for local selling sites, there is one in my area where people who have finished with items they no longer need, sell them on for £1 each item. I have bought quality branded clothing from these sites in the past, how often can you pick up a pair of converse trainers for a quid? I did.”
“I am on benefits, and struggle to survive each week. Yet I have two young grandchildren who don't understand this. So each week I try to buy something for under £1 and save these purchases for Christmas. They can be smellies or craft things, school pieces, and silly giggly things. I check out my local charity shops for good decent bargains too. Then I get a banana box; cover it with wallpaper samples to jazz it up. Wrap each item individually and then cover with cling film. So they get a "big" box of goodies and I feel that I have given them a decent box too. This way I do not panic when Christmas looms. For the adults, they get one lottery ticket....who knows I might even get a pressie back.”
“If you are lucky enough to have friends and family always ask them for supermarket vouchers for Christmas and birthdays, you can save them for emergency food dashes and clothing. It stops them wasting money on things you won’t use or need.”
For many people, finding low cost sources of food is only part of the battle: what you do with the food is also important.
“Change how you cook - eat more pulses as they're cheaper than meat and full of protein. Add beans or lentils to mince when you cool it - the mince will go much further. When you cook rice or pasta bring the pan to boil then after putting the lid on turn the heat off. Leave it for 25 min and the rice will be cooked. Boil eggs the same way, leaving them for 15 minutes.”
“Invest in a slow cooker! I won mine at a Christmas Fayre. I have never eaten so well! I can make several meals - which go in the fridge. Then I make use of a microwave!”
“With regards to food we find you can make mincemeat go a long way as you can make a lot of meals with it”
"Try to eat well and avoid branded foods and ready meals if possible. A good site for healthy meals is Live Below The Line UK on Facebook”
New “Soup is a great way of using leftover vegetables or veg that has sat in the vegetable rack and a little past it's best and so easy to make. Hit the supermarket at the end of the day and get some fresh bread to go with it too - yummy.”
New “Occasions: We all know we'd go mad if we didn't see friends and family from time to time for some downtime. Chances are your hosting days are over for dinner/birthday/occasion parties BUT a bring a dish to share get together for an occasion comes into its own when on a very low income and so good for the soul. Think of a theme: Let's say Mexican and ask your guests to bring a dish that they've cooked at home, Fajitas, Chilli con carne, nachoes, etc can be brought to your door hot and kept warm in your oven until all the guests have arrived.”
Having more than one bank account, asking for refunds on credit card and looking out for discount schemes were just some of the tips we received in relation to managing your money.
Setting up a budget and sticking to it was stressed by lots of people as vital to survival.
“I add up all bills for the previous year for electricity, gas, water, insurance, etc. divide by 52 and multiply by 12, this amount is then paid by direct debit into another account which I use to pay all bills. If you are on a monthly pension this can also be calculated to cover the five week months in each year.”
“Use a simple budgeting tool. I have an app for my phone called Spending. I record all my income and outgoings, and it keeps a running total for me.”
“Maybe an obvious one but if you are on several medications and do not qualify for free prescriptions it can work out very expensive, so opt for the yearly prescription certificate ...current cost £10.40 a month and you can get as many prescriptions as you need each month for this price.”
“Pay any council tax over 12 months - makes budgeting easier - check with your council as some want the request in writing to do this.”
“You need to pay your bills in the same way you yourself get paid. That way you can manage them better, reduce the risk of missing payments or payments bouncing because you simply don’t have the funds. Don’t be afraid to negotiate how and when you pay according to when you yourself get paid. It will make a world of difference.”
Having more than one bank account is another necessity for many claimants, allowing them to control what comes out and when.
“I have one bank account in which my benefit goes into, and from this account all my bills are paid, and I worked out how much I have left over each month (difficult for us benefit claimants as we quite often get fortnightly payments from different offices) and what is left over gets transferred across at the start of the month to my other account, which is for spending on food, clothes etc.”
“I always recommend 2 bank accounts - one for all bills to be paid from and the other for living expenses such as food and travel. I also recommend clients to use the basic bank accounts website to ensure they have a bank account which doesn't charge them for any overdraft facilities and is aimed at people who are on low incomes and/or benefits. I also use comparison sites”
A range of other ways of cutting costs were suggested.
“All schools have a budget that provides uniform and help with school trips for the children who attend that respective school. Our daughter is going to Wales on a trip that we would have struggled to pay but with the school’s help she is able to go.”
“If you have a cat or dog or maybe a rabbit, instead of paying monthly insurance, sign up to the PDSA.”
“If you have unsecured debts, one of the first things to do is seek help from a FREE debt advisory service and get all your interest stopped and a token £1 per month payment set up. (I never knew this and sold all my assets, car, mothers jewellery left to me and anything that wasn't nailed down, to keep up the payments and only discovered this after I had nothing left.”
“Don't forget if you are on certain benefits, you are entitled to an energy rebate. But you have to claim it with your supplier to get it.”
“If you are strapped for cash or need a little breather once, but you know you will have that extra spare cash in a fortnight or months’ time, get in touch with your vehicle insurance and ask them to delay that month’s payment until a certain date. They won’t do this on a regular basis but on a few times within the year there’s a high chance they will, but remember it will mean you pay twice that following month.”
“Being on benefits will have an effect on family life, with very little money available for family fun. Find cheap or free fun things to do with the children, such as going to the park and feeding the ducks, having picnics in the garden or some other place. Most towns have a Facebook page where things are advertised, and the library and children’s health centre will have lot of resources for free and fun things.”
“The Warm Home Discount scheme: It reduced my monthly payment plan only found about it last year as it is not well publicised.”
Some people have managed to find small amounts of permitted work or other ways to get vouchers or discounts.
“No one at the job centre told us about lower level permitted work (earning no more than £20 per week) and were very obstructive when we asked about it telling us a load of baloney about the rules which wasn’t true. So we did our homework and spoke to CAB and looked at the DWP guidelines and found out exactly what we are allowed to do and went back and demanded to be allowed to do it. Later we found out a claimant does not need permission to do lower level permitted work, just is required to tell the job centre they are doing it. Keep records”
“I earn a few extra pounds a month (legally) by selling home-made jewellery online.”
“Claimants can apply for market research projects to take part in.”
“A good way to legally earn some extra funds is to complete online surveys. The advantage is you can do the surveys when you feel well enough, give them a miss when you don't, and the amount of time you spend doing them can be easily kept within allowed work hours and is controlled by you. You can earn cash (Mysurvey for example), which can be paid into an account such as PayPal, or earn points towards vouchers for retailers such as Amazon. If you don`t touch the rewards throughout the year they can add up to a reasonable amount which can go towards your Christmas spending.”
“Lots of taxi firms need school children escorts to help take kids to school. It just involves sitting in a cab keeping the child company so no bending, stretching etc... Shifts last one hour so easy to fit in. Call around the taxi firms and you may find some permitted work.”
Voluntary work is something that some people find emotionally beneficial. For some, it also gives them a counter argument to the claim that they are not contributing.
“I've found that doing regular voluntary work is really good for self-confidence and some sense of normality.”
“Present yourself according to your talents and your gifts, keep volunteering even if you can only do something for someone else once every few months, the sense of worth can sustain you!”
“If you feel ashamed or guilty about claiming benefits, which might be due to all the recent negativity in the media, then perhaps you could try some voluntary work, even just for one day a week. You will be doing meaningful work and you can look at your benefit money as your payment.”
“Do voluntary work for people or organisations outside the home. The spin-off is that you keep warm and they often provide snacks and drinks which will keep you going.”
New “If you can, join a little social group or voluntary group these come with coffee and biscuits and also stop you from being isolated and bored at home.”
There were several very strong themes running through tips on dealing with the DWP – mainly about not trusting them to look after your documents or to do their job competently.
Keep copies of everything
Many people stressed – as we do in our guides - the importance of keeping copies of absolutely everything you send to the DWP.
“You cannot over-estimate DWP's incompetence. Copy everything that you send them and keep everything they send you - they are quite capable of denying all knowledge of it in a year’s time!”
“My tip is to not only always keep every piece of correspondence and or evidence while you are under their cosh, but to keep it stashed away for as long as you are of working age. I have a recurring illness and I have had Jobcentre Plus staff claim to my face that they have no record of me ever being ill before.”
“The best thing I did was to photocopy all forms I sent regarding benefits. It helps if you need to appeal. You can send photocopies of the relevant part of the form that seems have been misread or even missed. When I appealed, it meant that I could point out where they had got my information wrong. Because of this, it meant my appeal was upheld and I got the correct level of benefit.”
Keep all DWP correspondence
As well as keeping copies of anything you send, lots of claimants follow the advice in our guides to carefully file away everything they receive from the DWP.
“You can never have enough copies of important information so;
1) Send a copy unless it states to send the original.
2) Send everything recorded delivery.
3) Have a photocopy of everything you send and keep.
4) Scan all paperwork and email it to yourself - that way if your PC gets a virus, or your house burns down, or your friendly helper files it in the bin, you can always access it.
Don’t learn the hard way - the DWP and local councils WILL lose things and deny getting things.
Your computer really will have a melt-down one day - storing your documents as an email can be a life saver.”
“Retain copies of all correspondence with the department that administers your claim. If you receive a benefit award letter, do not assume it will always be correct. Benefit awards are usually computer generated, but are only as accurate as the information fed into the system by a decision maker and, therefore, are susceptible to human error! If you find yourself having to appeal a decision, a record of all information exchanged, by any medium, may prove to be very usual evidence to support your case.”
Dealing with DWP phone calls
Dealing with the DWP on the telephone was another issue that a lot of people wanted to give advice on. Whether it was to avoid speaking on the phone, record calls or keep careful records of calls.
“Each time you speak to the DWP about your claim, make a note of the time, day of the week, and date, who you spoke to, where they are (which call centre), and what was discussed, including their replies. Speaking to them on the telephone is a nightmare at the best of times, so if you can relate to them the details of your previous calls etc., it helps a bit.”
“My tip for new benefits claimants is when calling benefits helplines don’t use the 0845 or 0870 numbers they provide, you'll be kept waiting for ages and you'll rack up the cost. Use 'Say no to 0870' website to find an alternative number and call for free or cheaper.”
“Don’t speak to them on the phone. Do it all in writing.”
“Install free Automatic Call Recorder application on your android smartphone. It records all calls.”
“Regardless of what benefit you are claiming, do not agree to be interviewed by the DWP over the telephone. You cannot see what they are writing down and have no control over what is an official record of the telephone conversation. One of my conversations with a benefit processor - where I disagreed about the benefit procedure I was being subjected to, was recorded by the processor as my being 'happy with the outcome of the conversation'. Instead, tell anyone who rings you - and also write on any claim form - that you find forms / benefits too complex to discuss over the telephone and you only wish to be contacted in writing. That way you will have a written record of what you inform the DWP.”
“Whenever DWP staff refuse something, always ask for the decision in writing. In my experience this forces them to check out the legislation, and quite often they change their decision.”
Posting forms and letters
Not trusting the DWP to even be able to deal with post reliably was a common theme amongst our tipsters.
“I always send any correspondence by the Post Office "Track and Trace" service. It does cost around about £6.00, but is money worth spent as DWP can't say they didn't receive the letter, giving peace of mind in that one area.”
“My number one tip would be this .... Always keep a photocopy of all correspondence between yourself and the DWP and always send any written correspondence by Recorded Delivery. Once posted, staple the postal receipt to your copy of the correspondence you sent to them. I am absolutely certain that this practice helped me win my appeal in court last July.”
“When sending anything to any agency (ensuring it’s just a copy) always send the letter recorded or similar post. Come home attach the certificate to a copy of your cover letter and keep on file.”
Take a friend
Not going alone to interviews or medicals if you could possibly avoid it was considered very important by many respondents.
“I would recommend always having a witness with you when attending medicals, whether at an assessment centre or in your own home, vital if you disagree with DWP`s version of events.”
“Never go alone. Whether signing on, attending work focused interviews, going to medicals, or just talking to Work Programme providers, always take a friend. Someone who can take notes, or just be a witness. It makes a difference.”
“Have everything recorded. Especially the work capability assessments. My husband failed 2 and had the decision overturned at tribunal before requesting the work capability assessment be recorded, the 'medical professional' could no longer lie or make things up on the spot that were not said, so of course my husband was awarded esa and the support component. Also if you're refused the right for recording (they should bring the equipment) then email your local MP.”
Keep a diary
Some claimants keep an ongoing diary of their pain, flare-ups of their condition or how they manage day-to-day in order to make it easier to complete condition-related renewal claim packs.
“Type out a detailed account of the chronology of your health condition: include when it first started and a year by year account of how it has deteriorated.
Update this each year, much like keeping a diary.
Each time you have to complete a renewal for your claim, send in a copy of this history under the heading of 'additional information'.”
“Keep a Daily Record Diary of your day or daily Pain Charts - useful evidence which can be submitted with your Benefit application. If new to the benefit system it is useful information that you may have forgotten - Log everything, as detailed as possible.”
“One most important Benefit Tips is ALWAYS keep a record of ALL Hospital, Doctor, Consultant, Health Worker, Mental Health Team, Therapist appointments or Accidents, Injuries Etc. .So you have a FULL medical history spanning as back as you feel appropriate. Something you may feel insignificant at the time can BE very important in Future months or Years.”
Challenge the decision
One very strong message from claimants was that you should not give up in the face of a refusal, but instead fight on via the appeals system.
“Appeal, Appeal, Appeal. They always say ‘No’ on first application, or ask for the decision to be looked at again, especially if you have a new condition or missed something on the application.”
“Do not give up! If you do not get the result you think you are entitled to, keep at it.”
“Be ready to appeal, it appears to becoming ‘part and parcel’ of the process;, don't give up - Even if the DWP wants you to. Don't allow the DWP to assume anything, about your condition.”
“Don’t be discouraged by a refusal, always ask for them to look again, as it is very common for them to try and put people off by refusing as a matter of course. You need stamina and determination.”
“Remember, the Tribunals Service have no interest or agenda in finding for the DWP and are totally impartial. Whatever you do; do not fail to attend”
We also received some words of advice for people who find themselves on the Work programme
“If you are on the work programme and sick on the day so that you cannot attend make sure you get a medical certificate and evidence of your medicines treated for the complaint. Even though the work programme staff may try to undermine this evidence insist that they keep it on file and keep a copy yourself. Do not feel threatened by their tendency to disregard your illness and any doctors or consultants evidence because ultimately IT IS important and counts.”
“You don't have to put up with bullying from any of the work programme staff - you can enlist the help of your local welfare rights agency who will help you to write a formal letter of complaint to the right person. I approached my local welfare rights and asked for some advice as to the situation as I was at breaking point. They were very understanding and gave me practical advice in the form of some suggestions on how to compose a factual and impersonal letter that stated the core points of my grievances”.
The importance of using knowledgeable sources of help was stressed by lots of you.
Use Benefits and Work
We were pleased and gratified with the number of people who considered Benefits and Work to be an indispensable part of a claimant’s toolkit.
“My number one tip for those claiming benefits for the first time is - Gain as much understanding as possible about what the assessor is looking for when considering your application. This can be done in many ways, the easiest being to become a member of 'Benefits and Work’; they will provide invaluable, step by step information to take you through your application.”
“Before you start to fill in an application for, make sure you have all the information you need. If you're not sure what you'll need the Benefits and Work guides will tell you. I never apply for any benefit without one of these guides. I have got both DLA and ESA in the support group by taking my time and using the guides.”
Use your MP
It was also very encouraging to see how many people made use of their MP – after all they are the ones who are responsible for the current appalling benefits system.
“If DWP continue to make mistakes when dealing with you, after being told about it, don't hesitate to go to your MP and ask for his or her assistance .I am appointee for my wife and the DWP were continually writing to her in contravention of their own rules which state they must only communicate with the Appointee. Very shortly after my MP wrote to DWP, I got a written apology, a “real” phone number in case I wanted to call them & £25 compensation.”
“I now do not have any contact directly with DWP. I put all my queries to my local MP's office via email. They contact DWP on my behalf. I have found that the replies are faster and also the information is detailed. It appears that they are very careful in answering my MP.”
“At any point you have the right to ask your MP to contact the DWP on your behalf if you have particular difficulties concerning the response from the DWP. For instance this might be for an unjustified lengthy response time, lost evidence, wrong information giving, or anything that causes you undue worry or alarm. Your MP can write to your local area manager and request a response to any complaints you may have and the DWP have a duty to respond no later than 14 days to an MP's enquiry. Your MP does not require any special permission to act on your behalf with the DWP.”
Use local advice agencies
A lot of readers stressed the importance of getting expert advice in connection with your benefits.
“Always take advantage of benefit reviews your local council should do these free when you want one. It never hurts to double check you're getting all you're entitled to because we all know the government aren't going to advertise everything they offer!!! Many benefits are passport ones i.e. they mean you're entitled to other ones too bit u don't know until you check!”
“My tip would be to go along to a CAB or similar organisation and ask for a benefits entitlement check to ensure that you get all the benefits you are eligible to. Every year thousands (millions?) of pounds goes unclaimed as people don't know what they are entitled to or think they won't be entitled to a particular benefit.”
"If you are filling out a claim form where you have to answer personal questions about yourself and your condition, you are probably the most unsuitable person you can find to fill the form out. Get help, CAB are very good at this.”
“Get a representative who can help and guide you through the process and go with you to the Tribunal. I only found out about who can help too late for them to take my case but the still gave me advice and help. So anyone who has appealed against an Atos medical and is waiting for a Tribunal date - get yourself representation. It will be a lot less stressful than going it alone. Ring up your county’s Welfare Rights Service and they will talk you through it, look at your case, meet with you and go with you to the Tribunal. There is help out there – use it”
“Put together an 'SOS' List for times of panic! My tip relates to those times throughout any benefit period when you will require some professional advice or assistance. This is happening more frequently today and I find it is necessary to have a collection of telephone numbers, email addresses and internet sites written in a notebook or stored on the computer to contact when necessary. Examples are, of course, this website 'Benefits and Work', your local Citizens Advice Bureau, local Law Centre, local Council, DWP, Age Advice centre, local disability advice organisations, alongside any general internet sites who can offer online or telephone advice regarding benefits.
Also ensure you have kept your hospital consultants' reports on your treatment, their contact details and your own GP contact details. They are always required when undergoing assessments.
Lists of current medication are often essential.”
The financial and practical effects of being on benefits are only part of the picture. There are also the huge emotional effects for many people of feeling stigmatised because of needing to claim benefits.
Coping with the media
People had a variety of ways of dealing with the constant barrage of anti-claimant propaganda in the media.
“Don't read the papers about claimants; retain a realistic perspective about your situation and share it with friends and neighbours!”
“I think finding ways to deal with your own shame, others anger, and your own fear is absolutely vital. If you are unable to get work or are unwell, you are entitled to claim benefit.. You are not a bad person, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not 'less than' other people who work. Your worth is exactly the same as them. Affirming yourself is vital: you are a good person”.
“Try not to think that whatever is happening is a personal issue - it isn't - thousands of people are going through the same experience every day. Only a fraction of claimants make claims they are not legally entitled to - unfortunately these are the ones who get big press coverage - and unfortunately make things harder for people with a legitimate claim - like you!”
“For dealing with emotional aspects of claiming, hate rhetoric, waiting for Tribunals for example; I found going onto websites that are concerned with these issues very supportive. DPAC, Black Triangle, The Void, plus Benefits and Work helped me to become well informed and the blogs are great for venting anger and other troubling feelings.”
“The best way to deal with negative press about benefit claimers is to do your own research and find out the truth by looking at reputable websites. When friends, neighbours, strangers and opinion givers express a view, politely explain the true position and take a role in educating people and winning hearts and minds in favour of benefit claimants. Especially those with disabilities.”
“Don't worry about what people say, they don't live your life. There are a lot of support groups, especially on Facebook that can help you and tell you exactly what you should be claiming.”
“Wherever possible I talk to those neighbours who do not understand what is happening. I also challenge any negative stereotyping wherever I go. I talk to press and media, politicians and write articles or provide information to them on various aspects of the cuts, both locally and nationally.”
Dealing with the neighbours
Do you tell your neighbours – or even your family – that you are in receipt of benefits?
“Don't discuss DWP/Benefits you are receiving with any neighbours. You don't know who's out there and if there is any dispute you don't know how far people can go. Be cautious.”
“Don’t tell anyone about your benefits unless it is their business to know. Even if you are totally straight, there might be someone who will make your life miserable by claiming you are not straight.”
New “When I was unable to work for 2 years because of Clinical Depression decades ago I never told anyone I met I suffered depression. I just told them my doctor did not consider me strong enough to work.”
Some people told us about the importance of the support they get either in person or online to help them to survive as a benefits claimant.
“Keep a good support network, online or in the physical world; remember to share kind words with others.”
“Virtual support groups have been an essential part of forming and feeling comfortable with my new "disabled identity", you can be anonymous and completely honest without any fear of it having an impact on your "real life".”
“You may find that you find it emotionally very hard to really sit and consider how you are affected by your disability and to put it down in black and white. This leads to a natural tendency to understate the level of disability you have and to find it emotionally very draining to fill in application forms. Get somebody who knows you well to check your answers for you so you can make sure you have painted a true picture of your situation. And find a good friend who is happy to be a shoulder to cry on whilst you go through it.”
“Being on benefits is hard work - to survive you have to treat it like a job. It’s incredibly difficult to do if you are ill, so don’t quit or struggle - ask for help.”
“Above all look after your self-esteem. This is important for your well-being and strength that will be essential if you are to be able to live on benefits. There will be a lot of negative publicity about people on benefits and you must learn to hold your head up high and deal with these criticisms in a constructive way.
“I use a hot water bottle and a big fleece blanket to help keep warm.”
“Instead of using those washing machine tablets, change to Eco egg. It does the job, makes the clothes smell a lot better and saves the earth and your wallet. We are still on our first batch that we bought over a year ago and have saved approx. £240
“Cleaning and beauty products do not need to be the most expensive on the supermarket shelf because the adverts say so. In fact you can make very good, and more environment friendly, versions yourself from such simple ingredients as bicarbonate of soda (on the baking shelves) and white vinegar (cheap as chips and not smelly). There are sites offering a range of recipes for a host of home-made 'products' and it's fun to make them and try them out. You may discover that they actually suit you much better. For example I've been converted to using Coconut oil for my skin and hair care, it's fantastic stuff and need not be hideously expensive. I get mine from a local Asian deli where it's a fraction of the price of the stuff in the health-food shops. Just look around and have fun doing that”
“If you have a water supplier like Wessex water, contact CAB and arrange an application so that you can go onto a cheaper scheme which can save hundreds in the year. They will even re calculate the monthly amounts if you need to have say a 2-3 month break. But don’t take liberties.”
“We also use a calor gas heater instead of our central heating as the gas has gone up we were putting ten pounds on the gas card every two days which we just could not do by using the calor heater we spend on average £30 every three months a big difference”
New “I have interrogated my mother over all her make do and mend tricks. All the stuff they used to repair and recycle and refurbish. Furniture, clothes, toys. I can darn socks! A review of my clothes saw me sell three suits on eBay. Fancy electrical equipment went the same way.”
New “Kids will be transferring to new schools in September, see if you can blag items of school uniform from friends with kids moving up or leaving school. Blazers can be expensive and no use to the person who's now off to a different school or college.”
New 16 a week and it has made an enormous difference to my life. Trusts give to people from certain professions, people with connections to the armed forces, certain faiths, family of clergy, and more. Some areas also have local trusts that help with one off items. And there are things like the St Martin's in the Fields Vicar's fund, Salvation Army, which give to people irrespective of religious affiliation, or none. Google "Grants for Individuals in Need" or try the Turn2us grants
New If you are in receipt of DLA, AA, PIP or Armed Forces Independence Payment or you are Registered Blind, you could get a free cinema ticket for someone accompanying you. The scheme can be found here