The pandemic lockdown knock-on effects in Bathgate has seen more people contacting West Lothian Council’s Anti-Poverty service and its advice shops.

Christopher Nelson from the service told a meeting of the town’s local area committee last week that many of those who had contacted the service in the town were first time users.

The Advice Shop had seen growing demand for its services even before the pandemic hit early last year.

It has helped 2119 customers to manage their money and to resolve benefit problems within the Bathgate ward. This is a nine per cent increase from the previous year and resulted in 11,715 additional enquiries and contacts from these customers.

Mr Nelson said in his report to the committee: “As a result, customers have a better understanding of their situation and options available to them.

“Feedback shows this has a positive impact on individuals by increasing knowledge and understanding and ultimately improving the customer journey and empowering customers.”

Across the county, in 2020 to 2021, the Advice Shop has supported 14,258 individuals resulting in 72,540 additional enquiries and contacts from these customers, covering money and debt, energy, housing and welfare benefits.

This is a four per cent increase from the previous year.

County-wide, the Advice Shop generated £30,026,258 in extra income and successfully managed £5,334,196 in debt. A total of 163 appeals were lodged to help customers appeal a DWP benefit decision.

That resulted in 88 per cent of appeal decisions being overturned. This is a 63 per cent decrease in the number of appeals compared to the previous year.

The Anti-Poverty Service also presented figures on how pandemic specific support has played out in West Lothian.

The Self-Isolation Grant was introduced in October last year to provide financial assistance to individuals who are required to self-isolate. The numbers applying and receiving this have also risen.

People are awarded a £500 payment if they are unable to work from home during self-isolation and will lose income as a result. Individuals also have to be in receipt of a qualifying benefit.

During the financial year 2020 to 2021 from mid-October to March 31 2021, 1409 applications were received and 404 individuals awarded a grant.

This financial year, from April 1 to October 22, roughly the same number of months as the analysis for 2020 to 2021, 2461 applications have been made to the fund with 997 people awarded a grant.

The service also manages discretionary housing payments. In 2020 to 2021 it made 6105 awards for discretionary housing payments amounting to £3,411,751.

There were an additional 1146 awards amounting to £632,989 for financial hardship and 4959 awards amounting to £2,778,762 for under occupancy- popularly known as the bedroom tax.

The service administered the Scottish Government Family Pandemic Payments of £100 per child paid in December 2020 to children in receipt of free school meals based on low income. This resulted in payments amounting to £608,200.

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