Role: Family Benefits Advisor
Company: Employers for Childcare
What does your role involve?
I provide advice and information to parents regarding their eligibility for Social Security benefits and tax credits as well as advice on employment benefits and entitlements. I carry out better off calculations, taking into account childcare costs. Childcare affordability can often be the deciding factor of being able to access and stay in work.
I meet with a range of parents face-to-face, mainly in community settings, equipping all parents, working or not, with information on benefits available to them. The service is also provided through the Freephone helpline.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
I was already working in the organisation when the opportunity arose to become a childcare benefits advisor. The Childcare Benefits Advisory Service (now the Family Benefits Advisory Service) was launched as a pilot project in January 2010 in recognition of the need to empower parents to make informed decisions on their work and caring responsibilities. Many parents are unaware that there is help available with childcare costs. The service has been very successful and is now into its third year.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I always wanted a job whereby I could use my knowledge and skills in a way that actually helps people. This role provides me with a practical opportunity to do that and can be hugely rewarding, knowing that I have made a difference to someone’s circumstances.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
I was a volunteer with the Citizens Advice Bureau and completed its Advisor Training Programme. I have also completed the Welfare Rights Advisor Programme with the Law Centre NI and have regular training in welfare legislation changes and how any changes may affect our clients.
Having a broad understanding of all benefits and entitlements is essential to being effective in the role. Being a father myself, I have firsthand experience of a lot of the challenges parents face. This is especially relevant when it comes to questions about work and family life particularly concerning the challenge of trying to ensure that it actually ‘pays to work’ given the often high cost of registered childcare.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
Employers For Childcare Charitable Group (EFCCG) provides a number of key services including administering childcare vouchers, advising parents on benefit entitlements, lobbying and advising on childcare and labour market issues and we have recently launched Approved Home Childcare which offers flexible and affordable childcare in the security of a family’s own home. Our Freephone helpline 0800 028 6538 is available to parents, employers and childcare providers. We also carry out an annual childcare costs survey, a key piece of research.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
As a family benefits advisor I provide one-to-one confidential benefits advice to parents. The ethos of all our work is about helping parents with dependent children get into work and stay in work.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
Empathy is key, the ability to engage with people and to give them the confidence to tell you the information you need in order to help them. The ‘better-off’ calculations require personal information relating to circumstances and household income in order to give parents meaningful advice relating to their circumstances. Also the ability to explain clearly information which can be complicated, in a way that the listener is able to understand, is key.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
The biggest reward of this job is the opportunity to meet with a wide range of parents, getting to know them in some small way and hopefully helping them to make informed decisions about their future.
The biggest challenge is trying to keep on top of the changes in legislation and explaining how the changes may affect the parents we help.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I have received lots of good advice in the past and probably have not followed enough of it! However if I was to pick one it would be to ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
The benefits system is complex and complicated so make sure you keep abreast of any changes and their implications on families.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I have a young family so that means that relaxing and unwinding doesn’t happen much, but time spent with them is precious as they grow up and change so fast. I enjoy getting some quiet time to watch a good movie with my wife and I am a keen follower of motor sports.