The Supported Advice Team (SAT) started in March 2020 to help people with poor mental health and severe mental illnesses (SMIs) with their debt, benefits and housing issues. In 2020/21, we were funded through Suffolk Community Foundation’s ‘Realising Ambitions’; and we have subsequently secured a further three years funding through The National Lottery Community Fund.
All of our clients are supported by experienced advisers with training in mental health awareness and communication skills. The same adviser remains with the client throughout the advice process and acts as their advocate with both external organisations and our own specialist advice teams; they are also responsible for developing onward referrals to suitable partner organisations.
In 2020/21, we supported 144 clients with over 800 debt, benefits and housing issues. We increased our clients’ income from benefits by over £250,000; secured three new social tenancies; and helped six homeless people to be placed in interim emergency accommodation by the local authority. We also supported clients in making complaints to the financial and housing ombudsman; to negotiate debt management plans with their creditors and landlords; and to access counselling services.
We have diversified our inward referral streams by developing relationships with (NHS) community mental health services, local government and mental health charities. In 2020/21 over 70% of referrals into our service were made by external organisations; including LifeLink (20%), Suffolk Mind Connect (7%), Bury North and South IDTs (7%), and Julian Support (6%).
As inward referral streams were diversified, we saw a corresponding increase in the number of clients with SMIs. Over 40% of our clients had diagnoses of Schizophrenia, Borderline (or Emotionally Unstable) Personality Disorder, severe depression and Bipolar Disorder; although many of our most vulnerable clients had no diagnosis and little or no previous contact with mental health services.