It’s challenging time for caring farming charity

Regional welfare officer Sally Hubbard is the face of farming's oldest charity as she travels across the eastern counties from her home in West Norfolk.

It is a challenging role especially since the charity, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution established 161 years ago in Essex, received official approval to extend the range of help to even more people in the farming industry.

As it can now provide financial assistance to farmers, farm managers, farm workers and their dependants who have worked on the land more than 10 years, staff at the charity's Oxford headquarters refer potential beneficiaries to Mrs Hubbard.

And it has become an increasingly challenging task helping to cope with the paper chase, which has become the face of the modern and often confusing benefit system. At the same time, she also liaises closely with members of other rural-based charities and bodies, including Farm Crisis Network (FCN), where appropriate.

'The RABI can't help in every occasion but we can signpost or put them into touch because I've got the contacts. I deal with occupational therapists, social services, community care workers or FCN. It is really just a question of trying to help.

'When I receive a referral, then I arrange a visit and will look at everything. Obviously, I've got to look at the bank accounts because we cannot help if they have more than �10,000 in savings. But as I'm looking through, I'm thinking: 'Are they receiving everything they're entitled to.'

'I'll talk to them about what they should be getting and if they are not getting enough, I might be able to make an immediate call to the Department of Work and Pensions and check on the pension credit.

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'I might apply for a form for disability living allowance or, depending on their age, attendance allowance. I'm looking to make sure that they get everything they possibly can to help them,' she explained

'I suppose you could say that I do a form of financial health check. First and foremost, I'm making sure that they're receiving every state benefit and if they're single that they pay the right amount of council tax and get the 25pc discount.

'I find that a lot of people are not getting the right amount of money, maybe because they're getting attendance allowance but not necessarily the premium. And if the house is cold, have they got all the insulation available through bodies like Warm Front?'

Mrs Hubbard, who joined RABI a couple of years ago and covers the region including Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, often receives referrals from other charities including the Royal British Legion and through Age Concern.

'There's always other things which crop up and I don't know every organisation or everybody by any means. It is really more about having the 'know-how' because we're really trying to help those who have potential problems.

'If you get all of the brains together between us, we know all the other organisations, hopefully, which are out there. Certainly, with staff at my head office staff as a back-up, who are absolutely amazing, it is a really good backstop.

'Often people need a bit more possible intervention with the practical caring side and that's when we would be making a referral to social services. We would be getting them to come in and do an assessment because this person is struggling and they need to be assessed as soon as possible.

'Most people start from a situation when things are getting rockier or harder and it is then a massive learning curve especially for the family,' she said.

Sometimes, the help needed may be more practical and in Norfolk, Care and Repair can make a difference.

'We get a lot of referrals from them as well. There's a whole network of people out there who do know what we do and what we can do to help. We talk to each other and it works quite well, I think, especially in Norfolk which is one of my better counties, as is Suffolk.

'I don't know if it is because I know Norfolk so much better. In a way, I'm very lucky because most of my counties have very good network and links. Some of my time is spent visiting people and some is spent going to meetings to meet other people but most of it is spent visiting beneficiaries.

'Mostly we can do something even if it not direct financial help, it might be a case of helping them to sort their benefits out. Often we start helping people financially and sometimes their circumstances improve over time. And perhaps they reach a time when they reach our limit again,' she explained.

'But the thing that most worry about is losing the visits, the personal contact. What I'm trying to say is that personal contact is what people value as much as anything and to be able to share some of their worries and problems. Even if I can't do anything, they tell me: 'But you're here. Smiling. You're talking to us and listening and that's all we need'.

'For a lot of people, it can be very lonely and very isolated – that's come across an awful lot when I visit people. I've got a lot of beneficiaries who I visit more often because they need it. It really does vary.

'The charity is actually doing something which is clearly appreciated and you feel that you can make that difference to people. Sometimes you can't do anything but your presence is sometimes just enough.

'Of course, my work is completely confidential. But there is a caring network out there and we do work closely with other groups, especially the Royal British Legion because sometimes RABI can help if they've come from a farming background.'

Mrs Hubbard, whose husband Tim is a former North Norfolk farm manager, talks regularly to members of FCN which has a strong Christian ethos.

Keith Davis, FCN eastern counties regional director and part of the national network of 300 volunteers, said: 'We can sometimes deliver more direct support. If a farmer decides to call a farming helpline, we do want to help in whatever we can or in whatever circumstances.

'I would say that FCN has the numbers, which RABI perhaps doesn't have, and we have a spread of experience and expertise within our volunteer groups. So we can provide the pastoral and practical support for as long as it is needed.

'And where RABI has a specific function in the overall help structure, we can offer the support that any member of the farming community needs,' he said. 'We've got about 10 volunteers in Norfolk alone and about 15 in Suffolk including a couple in Essex, and we work closely with a separate organisation for Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

'We have three or four newcomers in Suffolk in the past 12 months, each bringing their own specialism. And I'm very encouraged by the growth in our team of volunteers in Norfolk.'

In Norfolk, the YANA Project (You Are Not Alone) is also there to provide additional help and support.

'The main thing is that there is an open line of communication between all the organisations. My message to farmers: Please call the Helpline earlier rather than leave it until the last throes. Come and chat to us and maybe we can prevent that crisis by speaking to someone a little earlier.

'The last thing that I want is another crisis but at least now we're better placed should anything like that happen than we were 12 months ago,' he added.


For help telephone RABI's confidential helpline on 01865 727888, e-mail or write to the Head of Welfare, RABI, Shaw House, 27 West Way, Oxford, OX2 0QH. Third-party referrals are accepted so if you know of someone who needs help contact RABI.

National FCN Helpline – telephone 0845 367 9990. Calls are confidential and the helpline is open 7am until 11pm, every day of the year.

Samaritans – telephone 08457 909090.

YANA – telephone 0845 0948286.