Maureen Bello, Financial Inclusion Officer at Hightown, shares insights into residents’ money worries and her thoughts about the impact of Universal Credit.
Tell me about your job.
I help Hightown’s residents who are having problems paying their rent in any way I can, providing assistance on everything from their eligibility for welfare benefits through to support at tribunal hearings and practical tips on how to avoid debt.
What kind of things do you help with?
For some of our residents, budgeting is a big issue. I share value for money ideas such as bulk buying or, where possible, paying by direct debit rather than one-off payments. I encourage people to get back into work by showing the financial benefits through my ‘better off’ calculation.
What’s your biggest concern for residents?
Welfare reform and the roll out of universal credit – where six legacy benefits will be combined into a single monthly payment – which will impact on many of our residents. Individuals who are used to receiving weekly benefits will be suddenly expected to manage their money to stretch across a longer timeframe.
How did you get into this role?
Job satisfaction for me is helping people who don’t necessarily have the ability to stand up for themselves and defend unfair decisions. My background is in law, and much of my career has been devoted to welfare advice, most recently for housing associations.
Is it easy to connect with residents?
All the people I talk to are grateful and welcome my help. It’s not a hard sell, they immediately see the benefits of better financial management. I don’t spend much time at my desk as I do a lot of home visits. It can be a long way for them to travel so I like to make it easier for them if I can.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Getting results for residents. I might see an opportunity for a review of benefit entitlement or a discretionary housing payment and I support individuals to make their case. There can be a lot of red tape and the whole process can take weeks or months. It’s all rewarding work, but most satisfying when much-needed payments are made swiftly and you help residents out of a really tricky situation.
What’s the worst thing about your job?
Knowing that there’s always someone worrying about their financial situation and that the introduction of universal credit will bring more challenges for individuals; but this will make my role even more important.
What would be your superpower and why?
My superpower would be invisibility because then I could help people without being recognised.
What’s the first thing you’d do if you became prime minister?
If I became prime minister, I would propose a new law, so individuals would not have to pay tax on income less than £20,000.
What’s the most private thing you would be willing to admit to your colleagues?
Not all of them would know I’m a legally qualified barrister. I’d also admit to my love for hip hop music.