Ways of finding out about specific benefits
Although many participants said they did not have regular sources of information about the benefits system, it was also clear that many others did have ways of finding out about what support they were entitled to.
Participants described a number of ways that they had found out about social security in the past.
Some had been told what they were entitled to by visiting the Job Centre or their local Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Others had gone to local council buildings with enquiries about additional support. A few had been to the bank looking for information about any financial assistance that was available.
"I look for information from the Job Centre."
"I go to Citizen’s Advice Bureau – they provide help and act like lawyers to those who can’t afford them."
Some had heard about specific benefits from contact with their health visitors, while others said that they had not.
"My health visitors told me about Best Start Grants."
"I haven’t spoken to my health visitor in 2 years – I don’t really like mine. It would be helpful if health visitors were a little more educated about what benefits were available."
A few said that it was a matter of luck what they were able to find out from organisations.
Through word of mouth
The largest response among both younger and older participants was that they had found out information about benefits through conversations with people they knew. These participants said that they relied on word of mouth to find out information about both specific benefits and the system in general.
"It’s word of mouth mostly."
"As a community, we’d mostly find out through word of mouth. I would keep an eye out for benefit information for someone else who I knew wasn’t looking. I know people who only trust the advice from friends and other social groups."
Some described how information filtered through their friends and family. Others said that community centres, support groups and schools were important hubs where they would learn about additional support that was available. Several had been told about individual benefits by social workers and health professionals who had known about their situation.
"I never went anywhere until last year. I had a problem with my knee and the doctor referred me to an occupational therapist. Then I went to hospital and a lady told me that I could possibly apply for DLA."
Some said that they relied on word of mouth because they were not able to find information that they could act upon anywhere else. Some knew that information was available online, but said that when they had looked for information on government websites, they were left unsure about what they were eligible for and how to apply.
"You can never find it online. My son started school and there was a grant that I applied for. But no-one told me apart from my friend. I wouldn’t have known otherwise."
"You just want to speak to someone, to confirm, put you at ease. I’ve been to the website so many times, but it mostly fills me with doubts."
Many described trusting word of mouth more than any of type of information that was online, or in a leaflet, or a letter. These participants felt that local advice and local stories from friends, family, and neighbours were trustworthy.
"Most things come from building up trust with people. It’s very important, being treated nicely."
"I don’t know about the benefits system. So I ask friends who have applied for the same or similar."
Through local community support
Many spoke about being reluctant to use mainstream UK institutions as sources of information. There was a view that because they knew local organisations personally, it was easier to trust them.
Several – who spoke in focus groups conducted in Mandarin and Cantonese - described how they received information about pensions and specific benefits through groups that had been organised by the local Chinese community in their area.
"I run an elderly lunch club. I arrange days where people can come in and talk and sometimes hear information. This is often the only way they would find out about anything."
Similarly, a number of participants – who spoke in focus groups conducted in Hindi and Urdu – said that they felt most comfortable approaching local multi-cultural organisations that they were familiar with.
"I receive most of my information through friends, or when I go to our outreach centre."
There was also a view among a few that they had found out about benefits that they were entitled to by chance. These participants said that they had been lucky to find out information by attending events or receiving advice from a stranger.
"I didn’t know about benefits until I attended an event in the town five years ago. Someone saw me walking down the stairs with a stick, and asked if I knew that I was entitled to support."
"I didn’t know about the money to help out with funerals. Feel lucky to have found out about it today."
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