REAL MONEY... The money stories affecting real people
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Welcome to the February 2016 edition of Real Money, where we share the money stories affecting real people. Our community is now more than 2000 people strong and is made up of an inspiring cross section of customers, creditors, debt advisers, campaigners, the media and policy makers across the UK. 

Firstly a big hello to everyone that has seen me on new Channel 5 TV series The Great British Benefits Handout. I'm one of three experts overseeing a bold new social experiment where three long-term unemployed families are given a lump-sum £26,000 in exchange for giving up benefits. Based on unconditional income experiments that have taken place across the world, the programme asks whether lives can be changed when free of low income benefit payments and the tough conditions they come with. 

I thought long and hard about joining the programme, but the TV production team were brilliant in making sure the families were not being set up to fail. All three families were given the support they needed to ensure the experience changed their lives for the better and Dragonfly TV also gave me absolute freedom to support the families as best I could.

The families were still able to make their own choices though which I totally agreed with. This was a social experiment after all, but armed with the right support, trust, some money behind them and a new found freedom, I was confident that amazing things might happen. And so it has! 

Scott and Leanne, who care for their disabled son and have four children, have started a successful party entertainment business. After an initial splurge to get the business up and running, Scott and Leanne are now proud to be generating their own income.

Rachel, a single parent of three children, hasn't worked for over 15 years and was really struggling with bills. Rachel has been super savvy, getting in front with her bills and becoming debt-free. She's now fully focused on moving into work. 

Tony and Diane from Hull have melted the nation's hearts. Long-term unemployed and in their own words 'stuck in a rut', the family have paid bills and debts, transformed their home and appearance and both Tony and Diane have moved into work. Even more importantly, the family are happier and closer than ever before.

Our families changing fortunes, new-found confidence and belief in themselves as a result of being involved in the series will always make me proud I was part of it. I have forged amazing bonds with all three families and will continue to be there for them as long as they need me.  

The final episode is on Channel 5 this coming Tuesday at 9pm so tune in to see the conclusion. 

The programme was a real eye-opener for me. I have always felt that treating people as people, trusting them, respecting them and supporting them where possible is the way forward to a fairer society. For example, we love HSBC and Sarah Willingham's #StartToday campaign. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out here for tips on budgeting, starting a business and taking control of your life. But also, support (and money) will only take you so far. The families involved still had to find the motivation, confidence and skills to change their lives. 

We know there are many thousands of families 'stuck in a rut' out there. Is the welfare system failing them? Certainly improvements need to be made. Long-waiting times for claims, freezes and cuts on levels of support, impersonal medical assessments, harsh sanctions and a lack of support available within Jobcentres are just some of the issues welfare claimants have to contend with. But more cuts are on the way. ESA claimants could once again be hit. Big changes are ahead with Universal Credit. The language used by government, in some parts of the media and by some people generally in society about benefit claimants is still by-and-large discriminatory and unhelpful. There must be a better way. Treating people as people and caring about them would make such a difference. 

The programme has made many people get in touch with us. Many want to take control of their finances and get help with debts. We've had many share business ideas. We have to find better ways of helping those 'stuck in a rut' move forward. How can we better improve the confidence, self-esteem, skills and decision making of people in long-term unemployment? What practical support can be provided to inspire people to move into work, get help with debts and take control of their finances. If people on low incomes want to start a business or become self-employed, is the right business support there for everyone that needs it?   

I really hope those of you that have seen the programme have enjoyed it (you can also watch it back now).

I'd love to hear if it has changed your views on benefits or more ideas on the support or services people need to flourish. 

As always, loads to share this month. I'll let you get reading! 

Take care, see you next month 

Lee H @income_max

MPs reject Lords amendment and vote to keep proposed cuts to ESA and universal credit

Cameron seeks to 'reduce the unnatural draw of our benefits system' in new government white paper on Europe

David Cameron announces that tens of thousands of people with mental health conditions will be supported to find or return to work

Universal Credit transition to full service – new timetable announced

2016/2017 government funding levels for local authorities in respect of discretionary housing payments announced

330,000 sanctions were applied to jobseeker's allowance claimants in year to September 2015, down from 710,000 in the previous year

Less than 200,000 people were claiming universal credit as of 14 January 2016

32 local authorities will have more than 800 households affected by the reduced benefit cap, estimates DWP

37,300 lone parents on income support were sanctioned by DWP in year to September 2015

Households in receipt of carer’s allowance or guardian’s allowance are to be exempt from the benefit cap the government have announced

The new benefit cap reductions will be introduced from autumn 2016

* Source

Update on the new Standard Financial Statement

Bankruptcy application process changes from April 2016

The preventative advice gap: how money advice can help people avoid financial difficulties

UKAR ARena debt advice magazine (MUST READ)
Illegal Money Lending Team

Founded in 2004, The Stop Loan Sharks project targets illegal money lenders, more commonly known as loan sharks. The Teams look into illegal lending and any related crimes.

The Project, made up of three national teams (England, Scotland and Wales) is funded by the National Trading Standards Board and works in partnership with local Trading Standards Authorities.

The Project has so far secured more than 255 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity leading to prison sentences in excess of 165 years. £40.3 million worth of illegal debt has been written off by the Team and more than 20,000 loan shark victims have been helped.

To report a loan shark, please use the details below.

If you live in England: Phone 0300 555 2222, text ‘loan shark’ and your message to 60003 or email

If you live in Wales: Phone 0300 123 3311 or email

If you live in Scotland: Phone 0141 2876 655 or email

Visit the Website:

You can also follow the team on Facebook and on Twitter

Martin Lewis launches a brand new Money & Mental Health Policy Institute and they are hiring

Households below a Minimum Income Standard – new report from Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The Centre for Social Justice launches major investigation into housing and calls on Government to adopt a housing policy for low income families

The future welfare state must be shaped by service users themselves
Find out more about our work and how we help you take control of your finances

Households switching energy provider rose 15% in 2015
Struggling with debt? Help is out there

We know that life happens but believe that there is always a step forward. We provide independent personal money advice for the real world that helps you to take control of your finances. 

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It's real world money advice for real people with money worries like debt, changes of circumstances, benefit problems and messy finances. 

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Credit Today Customer Service & Collections Awards 2015
'Best Vulnerable Customer Service Initiative - Non-Creditor' 

Unltd Fast Growth Awards 2015 Winner

Santander Social Enterprise Development Award (SEDA) Winner 2012 

Shackleton Foundation Awardees 2010

London Leaders

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