A dedicated team of advisers has put millions of pounds back in the pockets of the county’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.

Social workers, housing officers and health professionals are trained to refer those who are struggling financially to the county council’s money advice service for help.

And the county council’s annual report – due to be published later in the summer – reveals that last year (2018/19) the service helped struggling residents receive £16 million in the form of lost or unclaimed benefits.

But that £16 million could be a fraction of the real difference made by the team last year – with many of the benefits the unit secure each year continuing to be paid to residents for years to come.

“Even though we say £16 million this year – claimants may be getting that money every year for the next 10 years,” said Gary Vaux, head of money advice at the county council’s Stevenage-based money advice unit.

“And there will be those getting money claimed in previous years too.”

Typically those referred to the service include patients diagnosed with cancer or other health conditions, residents with mental health issues or carers.

Mr Vaux puts the “success” of the money advice unit down to the dedication, resilience and knowledge of the team.

And he stresses that as well as filling in the initial claim forms, advisers challenge any refusals by the DWP – and, if necessary, take them to appeal.

“I have a brilliant team and I am amazed by their resilience and their knowledge,” he said. “They are experts at what they do – and in some cases nationally recognised as experts.”

Amongst the successes of the advisers, Mr Vaux highlights last year’s work with 2,500 people who have been affected by cancer, a part of the service run in conjunction with Macmillan Cancer Support.

Mr Vaux says, following a cancer diagnosis, patients – usually referred by Macmillan nurses or NHS staff – can face an array of financial concerns, for the long or short term.

They may be worried about the cost of transport to and from hospital visits, the replacement of clothes that have become too big or too small as a direct result of treatment or the cost of heating.

Or, he says, they may be determined to make what could be a final visit to see family overseas, but can’t find a solution to the problem of travel insurance.

In some cases, patients will be struggling to work out how to manage if they have to stop work.

And if a partner has to give up work to become a carer, they may be facing a drop from two incomes to none.

Mr Vaux says that without the help of the advice unit patients and their families – particularly those who may never have claimed benefits before – can be bewildered by the system.

And he says the support of the unit’s advisers can make a real difference to the lives of cancer patients.

“It means money is one less worry,” said Mr Vaux. “It means they can concentrate on their recovery or, if they are not going to recover, they can leave their family in a better situation.

“It takes away the worry. It gives them a greater sense of security and enables them to put the heating on and buy the clothes they need, because they may have lost three stones in two months.”

In addition to the work with cancer patients, the unit also works to support those with mental health issues, other health conditions and a number of low paid carers.

Often, says Mr Vaux, carers may be struggling on a low income to look after themselves and a loved one.

But because they see themselves as a ‘parent’, a ‘child’ or a ‘partner’  they don’t see themselves as a formal carer.

And they need the support of the advisers to claim the benefits they are entitled to.

Councils do not have a statutory duty to run money advice units. But, says Mr Vaux, Hertfordshire has continued to support the service.

“Hertfordshire should be congratulated for having a unit like ours,” said Mr Vaux. “A lot of councils don’t – or they did and they have closed.

Reference to the £16million raised by the money advice team in additional benefits for vulnerable adults is made in the county council’s annual report 2018/19.