Age UK Norfolk has dealt with more people asking for help with finances and loneliness in the past financial year than ever before, and expects the trend to continue next year.

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Age UK Norfolk has dealt with more people asking for help with finances and loneliness in the past financial year than ever before, and expects the trend to continue next year.

At an annual meeting yesterday in Mattishall, chief executive Hilary MacDonald told trustees that changes to the way Norfolk County Council commissions services had required a culture change within charities – but that Age UK Norfolk had responded well.

She said the charity had seen a “marked increase” in the number of older people asking for benefits guidance, funding support and financial advice in the past year, something she put down to recessionary pressures.

She said: “There must be a strong link between the income-based enquiries and the economic environment.

“This is the first year we have been able to see that so clearly,” she said. “People are struggling and they need our help.”

Calls to the advice helpline increased by nine per cent on the previous year, with nearly a quarter of enquiries relating to benefits, while the benefits outreach team carried out more than 1,000 home visits – up 23pc.

Money Matters, Age UK Norfolk’s financial advisory service, saw a rise of eight per cent in people asking for help, while referrals to the funding support service, which looks for money for short breaks and one-off items or services, were up by 42pc.

There was an increase of 23pc in the number of people accessing the telephone befriending service, to 164 people.

A change in how care contracts are awarded by Norfolk County Council – moving from block contract to individual spot purchase – would move the financial risk on to the shoulders of the charity, she added.

“We have no idea what the impact will be for older people,” said Mrs MacDonald, adding that the charity had been preparing for the change for three years.

“But the important thing is that someone will be monitoring that effect, week by week and month by month.

“There are changes and they could offer us opportunities, so we are trying to respond positively.”

The challenge for Age UK Norfolk would be in retaining its identity while meeting older people’s needs, she said, adding: “We have to make certain in these uncertain times that we can continue to fund those services.”

Christina Victor, professor of gerontology and public health at Brunel University, closed the meeting with a keynote address, arguing for a more nuanced approach to how society deals with the issue of loneliness.

She said: “It’s time to be more sophisticated in how we think about things, and how we identify which groups in society are vulnerable to it.

“Loneliness is something that can affect anyone at any age, and they all present different challenges.”

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