February 2024


Reducing the stress of financial hardship on the most vulnerable

Charis client services director Jonathan Hunt outlines the impact the Charis Shop platform is having on organisations working directly with the most vulnerable in their care.

Jonathan Hunt

Supporting vulnerable people in their homes is a fundamental aspect of community care, whether they are recovering after a stay in hospital, struggling with mental health issues, or are simply becoming overwhelmed by the additional financial burden imposed on them by higher energy bills, inflation and general increases in the cost of living.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is simply ensuring that their homes are fit for purpose. Discharging an elderly patient who has no family support into a cold, empty house with an empty fridge is not an option. Housing a single mum in a home which is inadequately furnished with carpets, beds and kitchen appliances will simply add to the overall sense of anxiety. The time and resources that are needed by vulnerability teams involved in finding solutions do not represent the most cost-effective use of a hardship fund.

Charis is working increasingly with NHS Trusts and local authorities responsible for supporting those in the community who struggle with independent living. The rapid and secure distribution of a broad range of products and vouchers through its Charis Shop platform, can generate significant time and money savings on the allocation of the funding.

Energy and food vouchers make up the fundamentals of financial support, ensuring that at the very least individuals can keep warm and have a plate of hot food. Beyond this, the Charis Shop can be used to access the supply of clothes and soft furnishings (such as carpets, curtains, and bedding), furniture, small and large electrical appliances as well as emergency Winter Warmth and Heat the Home bundles containing everything you need to retain heat both personally and within the home.

Products are carefully selected to provide an immediate relief to the intense discomfort of living in poverty. Energy efficiency is also a key consideration. We have recently added air fryers to the Shop, which can cook at 20% of the cost of traditional ovens. The more we can help vulnerability teams to set their clients up to be as energy efficient as possible, the better the use of allocated resources in the long term.

One of our local authority partners recently explained how the Shop has become an essential tool in helping residents navigate the cost of living.

“We work with vulnerability teams across the council and voluntary sector. The Charis Shop enables these teams to offer food and or fuel vouchers as part of a more holistic approach to money advice and support. Because specific criteria are built into the front end of the system, the teams can make fast and accurate eligibility assessments, which allow them to quickly meet the immediate needs of residents”.

Something we have been increasingly conscious of recently is the issue of digital exclusion – both among elderly residents who have not had reason to incorporate smart technology into their lives, and for whom the cost of a device and internet access is prohibitive. Too often people miss out on financial support simply because they cannot access online applications. As one of our NHS partners recently commented: “With the recent addition of digital products to the Charis Shop, we have been able to help individuals with access to vital services, including DWP, the Home Office and mental health support”.

Improving the physical comfort of vulnerable people has a massive impact on their emotional wellbeing too. NHS teams understand how the stress of returning to cold, ill-equipped homes can impede recovery and the Charis Shop enables them to efficiently establish the right environment into which patients are discharged. One of our NHS partners recently sent us the following comment:

“I am the Clinical Matron for the Discharge Coordinator Team within my local Mental Health Trust. We are increasingly using the Charis Shop and it’s rapidly becoming an invaluable resource. With new products frequently becoming available, we are better able to plan discharges, reduce length of admission, and minimise delays where practicable, which in turn leads to a better patient experience. Some of our patients are unable to manage independent living and, as part of their discharge plans, we arrange various levels of supported accommodation for them. This often comes without basic amenities such as cookers, beds and furniture. Many of our patients are not in a financial position to purchase these items at once, so to be able to support them via the Charis Shop is hugely beneficial.

“We have been able to clearly demonstrate the benefits of the Charis Shop, and this has led to all three of our Integrated Care Board putting funding in place. This allows patients from across the county to access this resource and experience the positive impact it can have on them moving forward, whilst reducing the stress of financial hardship”.

Over the last year 48 local authorities have put £2.6 million through the Charis Shop platform, issuing vouchers for food, energy and other essential items, and equipping homes with quality furniture, soft furnishings and energy efficient electrical appliances.

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