Rural project tackles ‘profound’ reform

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As the nation prepares for widespread changes to the benefits system due in April a four-year, £460,000 south Northants project to bring essential advice to rural communities is about to get into full swing.

Last week the Advertiser highlighted the plight of Tony and Anne Sharman from Towcester who are about to lose £60 a month in housing benefit.

Mrs Sharman cannot walk or talk and Mr Sharman is her full time carer and sleeps in the bedroom next door.

But in April the Welfare Reform Act will redefine Mr Sharman’s bedroom as a spare room and they will see a reduction in their benefit.

Mr Sharman said he may have to cut back on essentials to account for the shortfall.

Later this month South Northants Volunteer Bureau will take receipt of a purpose built bus, equipped with computers, a private meeting room, a library of information, and on board experts to deliver advice on benefits, debt, and reducing utility bills to people like the Sharmans.

The Lottery funded Village Networks project, which has already started, and continues in Deanshanger next week, was created in response to a survey in which 28 south Northants parish councils said their residents needed more advice on welfare benefits, debt and job-seeking.

Nick King from SNVB said cuts to public transport and other services had left some rural residents feeling increasingly isolated and added: “It’s lock, stock and barrel, there’s changes and cuts all over the place, so this project is very timely.

“Those changes are going to bite this year and people will realise they need help, and that’s exactly what Village Networks will do.

“There are some profound changes and it’s going to affect us all in some way, how seriously will depended on our personal circumstances, our income and what sort of benefit we are claiming.”

Mr King said he works closely with the Northampton based advice service Community Law which is seeing an increasing number of referrals from south Northants. He added: “And as the Inland Revenue write to people to explain the changes I think it will be a shock to some people like it was with the Sharmans.

“They need to respond to that and with our network of advisors we’ve got, we can try and help.”

For more information call 01327 358264 or email villagenetworks@snvb,org.uk.