CONGRATULATIONS to TLA’s welfare and benefits adviser Dave Vermond who is retiring this month after 30 years with the organisation.

After working in residential childcare, Dave joined Leeds Housing Concern, as Turning Lives Around was then known, initially as a relief support / project worker for three weeks on the Dewsbury Road Young Person’s Project. The temporary role became a permanent one which Dave stayed in for 20 years.

“It was a great job. I loved it. Everything was much smaller and simpler then. We followed the youth work model and had a lot of contact with the 16-25-year-old young people that we housed,” Dave recalled.

By 2013 there had been tremendous changes. The organisation had grown exponentially, a full management structure had been introduced along with computerisation.

Dave had become interested by default in Housing Benefit during his work in the project and was asked to take on the role processing and monitoring the Housing Benefit system for the whole organisation as well as advising and advocating for other welfare benefits.

“The principle aim of the role was to ensure the Housing Benefit system was working for the organisation and people were able to understand it,” Dave explained. “I was no expert on the state benefit side of things but knew my way around the system and had contacts.”

A huge change on the state benefit front was the introduction of Universal Credit which has replaced many of the old benefits.

“With Universal Credit came the digitalisation of everything and things became more virtual. It was a lot harder for the people we house to understand and navigate the system. Our clients generally present specific challenges in that many are unable to fulfil the terms of Universal Credit,” commented Dave.

“A lot of work goes into explaining individual limitations to the DWP because with the complexity of the system and sanctions etc, it is easy for people to fall foul of it. One of my main roles is to work with support workers to ensure clients don’t fall foul.”

While Universal Credit has replaced Housing Benefit for many, that’s not the case for those living in supported accommodation such as that provided by TLA and our consortia partners. Having worked closely together for many years, TLA and Leeds Benefit Service have developed a good, cooperative relationship.

“It is tougher than ever for people to manage on benefits today. Without foodbanks and general assistance from TLA, clients would go under,” Dave said.

“If administered properly, Universal Credit should be an improvement on the old system. About 80% of our clients who claim benefit are on Universal Credit and it’s been good for some of them.

“Supported housing is vital; it gives people who have led chaotic lives the chance to stabilise. The quality of support we provide is the same as ever, really good, and Universal Credit can assist with that.”

Focusing ahead, Dave is looking forward to spending more time in his garden and enjoying his music and songwriting. Although officially retiring in March, he will still be involved on a consultancy basis with TLA while his replacement is appointed and settles in.

“I like that I have been doing things that are good for TLA and the people that we house and shall miss knowing that we have sorted stuff out and assisted people,” reflected Dave.

“I have discovered that delayed gratification is a bonus. Coming across someone that I have helped in the past occasionally who recognise me, introduce me to their family, fill me in on what they are doing and thank me for my contribution towards turning their life around. When that happens, it’s just great.”

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