One of the things I love about my job is being able to help my friends and neighbours out when they have a problem.
I live in a communal block of flats and some of my neighbours are in their eighties, or have medical conditions that significantly affect their lives. Our community is very hands on – we often pick up things from the shops or pharmacy for people who can’t get out and about and we regularly check on each other to make sure everyone is okay.
Yet often the advice that’s needed the most isn’t given, because we don’t want to be seen as ‘interfering’. Increasingly, I’m realising that we need to ‘be less British’ and interfere a bit more. Older or more vulnerable people – and young adults too – are statistically less likely to know about their rights or how to seek help if they are struggling financially.
Here are a few tips on how to help people who might need it the most.
Beating the scammers. Con artists target older people disproportionately for ‘push payment’ (transfer) fraud and its many variations, while younger or more vulnerable people are more likely to get their accounts or cards nicked or hacked. There are zillions of variations on these scams, so when offering advice, focus on the Golden Rule: No business should ever contact you and ask for personal details or passwords – and you should never, ever transfer money to an account because a stranger ‘in authority’ asks you to do so.
Become a search engine. I’ve had some heart-breaking discussions with older people recently about how they are planning on not turning on the heating or the cooker to save cash. This isn’t the solution to this energy crisis. So when talking to your neighbours, type in to your phone or laptop ‘Ofgem financial difficulties’ and you’ll get a list of all the energy grants and help available that you can then discuss with less tech-savvy people. Type in ‘Age UK benefits for older people’ and you’ll get a great list of all the help and benefits via Age UK with lots of other information and support helplines. Finally, you can type ‘Citizens Advice bills’ and you’ll get a huge list of support schemes for pretty much everything from the magnificent Citizens Advice. Share the knowledge (print off the details if you can too).
Emergencies. Older people, or those dealing with a significant medical condition, should have people from the council or health services visiting their properties. Where you can, why not introduce yourself and find out what help they might need should there be an emergency? It’s not always practical for people to use or have access to a mobile phone, but they may have alarms or other ways to request help in emergencies. Some support services recommend key drop boxes so carers can access the property regularly or in the eventuality there’s a problem. Having access to a code to the key box is more practical than having a set of keys to the property as you can pass on the code to emergency services if you’re not at home (once you’ve confirmed their identity).
Switch to save. There’s not much to save when it comes to energy bills at the moment, but people can potentially halve their broadband or mobile bills if they are out of contract. And insurance switching can save you a fortune if you note down the date your insurance is due to renew. If your neighbours with someone who might be in need, you should be able to get a few comparable quotes using your own details on their behalf for most regular contracts (with a few exceptions). So why not track down the best switching deals for them?
Taking a little time to help people – particularly at this time of year – is much easier than you might think. Together, we can make society a little better, a step at a time. So speak up and seek out those who might be struggling. You won’t regret it.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.