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Oxfordshire Mind's Benefits for Better Mental Health service and the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership

What is the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership?

The Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership brings together six local mental health organisations from the NHS and the charity sector: Connection Floating Support, Elmore Community Services, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Oxfordshire Mind, Response and Restore. The partners have joined together in order to work more closely with each other and with people who have mental health problems to make it easier for people to get the best possible support when they need it.

One of the benefits it will bring is a Recovery College which will use an empowering and educational approach to mental health recovery, and which will be run by people with lived experience of mental health problems who will be supported by a team of professionals.

What does Oxfordshire Mind's benefits advice service do?

Our Benefits for Better Mental Health team provide advice to people with mental health problems on any aspect of welfare benefits whatever people's circumstances. Oxfordshire Mind is part of a county wide partnership which has allowed us to develop closer links with the social work staff working on the wards and we now provide benefits support to the patients as part of their pre-discharge programme.

Rather than having to wait until they are discharged, we can now see people on the wards and get their benefits in place ready for discharge and provide them with expert advice about what they can expect to happen and when. This means that the person already has contact and knows how to get help and what to do when they come out, so that there is smoother transition from being an inpatient to being independent.

What kinds of benefits problems do people have?

Being admitted or discharged from hospital can be a confusing and disorientating experience and the clients we see need help and advice on all types of benefits. We seek not only to help them understand what benefits they may be entitled to but also why and what this will mean that they have to do and where they can get help from BBMH.

The majority of those people we see are unable to work when they are discharged, so we focus on the benefits that allow them to manage and give them some basic income whilst they try and recover. So we focus on getting them access to the benefits that they need to live on, such as Employment Support Allowance, Housing and Council Tax Benefits as well as Personal Independence Payment.

Most of the people we see, don't understand what benefits they need to claim and often don't even have the resources to make the initial calls to claim these benefits. With no money and when their benefits have been erroneously stopped, we are there to help and get things back on track. Equally, most benefits require that long forms (some 52 pages long) are completed and so we make ourselves available to help them complete and get through the complex maze of benefit regulations and issues.

What difference does it make to people that they can get advice before they leave hospital?

So long as you have the advice and help you need when you leave hospital, your benefits can be transitioned and protected, but, if you don't know what you are supposed to do, who you are supposed to call and what information they need, then most people will simply assume that their benefits will continue. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Most benefits are now conditional on the claimant engaging with the benefits agency, whether that be by completing forms, updating on-line journals and attending assessments. Without completing these obligations, our client's benefits can be stopped, then can be sanctioned and left without any money or unable to pay their rent. This can make their condition worse and stop their recovery in its tracks.

Providing them with the information they need to know what needs to happen and how we can help means that they are able to plan ahead and have a coping strategy in place to help when things change or go wrong.

What have you learned that you can pass on, from providing this service and working as part of the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership?

The Partnership has embraced new ideas which are focused on making things simpler and easier for the patient and as part the partnership we are delighted to be able to participate in new processes – where we can reach and help more people.

Working within the Partnership has shown us how willing and enthusiastic other members of staff are to adapt to the changes.

What we have learned is the need to be prepared to be both flexible and be organised and to monitor and adapt how the service provision is delivered to make the process simpler for the people we see.

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