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Provided by Mae Stewart, Editor UNISON Retired members Newsletter, Dundee, Perth and Angus.
Please note that this is not definitive information about benefits but will provide a signpost as to where to get up to date information. Please check the sources first. UNISON Scotland can take no responsibility for information that may be outdated or inaccurate.

The new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged

Issue 29 November 2010

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House repairs, improvements and adaptations

Your home may need some repairs to make it safer or more comfortable. If you are a homeowner with savings, this will probably be your own responsibility. It is important to find a reliable firm to carry out the work. Make a detailed list of what you want done and be sure to get at least three written quotations from different companies.

If possible, approach builders who have done work for someone you know and trust, and who belong to a respected trade organisation such as the Federation of Master Builders To find details of a business which has the Trust Mark logo (an initiative backed by the Government), visit its website at www.trustmark.org.uk It helps people looking for a reliable and trustworthy tradesperson to carry out repair and improvements to their home.

You can also call Consumer Direct on 0845 404 0506. It cannot recommend individual companies, but it will give you details of approved scheme operators who have suitable Trust Mark-registered trades people. Make sure you check the address of the building firm and ask them to show you some recent customer references.

Finally, make sure that all the details of the work to be done, the timings and the costs are agreed in writing with the builder. Don't be pressured into having building work done by doorstep traders. The Office of Fair Trading produces a booklet called 'Having work done on your home' which gives guidance on planning and managing work on your home. See the 'Useful contacts' for the address.

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Advice for tenants:

If you are a housing association or private tenant, your landlord is usually responsible for carrying out necessary repairs. Check your rent book or tenancy agreement to see whether this is the case. If your landlord is not responsible, then you can apply for a grant from your council (see below). If you are a council tenant, some repairs will be the council's responsibility.

Contact the housing department of your local council (or your local housing executive in Northern Ireland) to find out how to get repairs done. Communities and Local Government produces a booklet called A better deal for tenants: Your new right to repair. you can get a copy from its publication department on 0870 122 6236. This booklet contains information for council tenants who live in England and Wales.

If you live in Scotland, contact your local housing department for more information. If your landlord is unwilling to make repairs they are responsible for, seek advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau or your council's housing advice department.

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Grants from the council:

You may be able to get a grant or loan from your local council to help with the costs of small repairs to your home and major renovation work - for example, replacing a rotten window or installing a bathroom if you don't have one. If you are disabled you can also apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant to adapt your home to make it more suitable. This might include things such as fitting a ramp or making it easier to use the bathroom.

The help you can get varies depending on your finances, where you live, and whether you are a homeowner or a tenant. See our information sheet 'Home Repairs and Improvements' for more information about each situation or contact your local housing department if you live in England, Wales or Scotland, or the housing executive in Northern Ireland.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau or home improvement agency should also be able to give you advice on the grants available in your area. Bear in mind that it can be quite difficult to get a grant, depending on the financial situation and policies of your local council. But it is always worth trying. Never start work until your grant has been approved - if you do this the council can refuse to pay any grant at all.

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Insulation and draughtproofing:

Good insulation and draughtproofing can make a big difference both to your comfort and to your fuel bills. There are different grant schemes in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales which offer financial help towards things such as draughtproofing, loft insulation and cavity wall insulation. Our free advice leaflet 'Keep Out the Cold' gives details of these grants and how to qualify, as well as general advice on keeping your home warm and making the cost of your heating.

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Social Fund payments

If you are getting Pension Credit, you could apply for a Social Fund Community Care Grant. These can be given towards leaving a care home, helping you stay independent at home or if your family is under exceptional pressure. Payments are discretionary which means that you have no legal right to a grant.

If you have been getting Pension Credit for at least 26 weeks you may be able to get a Social Fund Budgeting Loan. These are paid out of your weekly Pension Credit. But bear in mind that Budgeting Loans can result in more debt and difficult so it is always better to try to get a grant. Contact your local Jobcentre Plus office for more information on applying for a Social Fund grant or loan. You can get their details from your local phone book.

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Other sources of funding:

You may like to approach a charity or benevolent fund as another source of funding. For more information about benevolent societies, see our free information sheet, Financial Help from Benevolent Societies. If you can't get a grant, or if you are only given one that covers part of the cost, and you cannot get help from a charity or benevolent fund, you may want to look at other ways of raising money. If you own your home you may want to consider an equity release plan which involves mortgaging or selling part of your home in return for a cash lump sum or a regular monthly income.

You could also consider borrowing money against your home through an ordinary loan, or an interest-only loan. With an interest-only loan you pay back only interest each month - the sum you borrow does not have to be repaid until the house is sold. If you are considering any sort of loan, think carefully about whether you can afford the repayments. With an ordinary loan, remember that monthly repayments will probably be high as it will be repaid over a relatively short period.

If your home has been affected by things such as storm damage or subsidence, contact your home insurer to find out whether these types of events are covered, subject to paying an excess. It is important to get independent financial advice if you are thinking about taking out an equity release plan or loan.

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Help the Aged - Gifted Housing:

If you own your home and are thinking about leaving your estate to a charity, you could consider the Help the Aged Gifted Housing service. In return for donating your property to Help the Aged, the Charity takes responsibility for repairs and maintenance, property insurance, Council Tax and water rates; provides a community alarm; and helps with gardening costs. You just pay your fuel and telephone bills and contents insurance. The Gifted Housing team can also help with arranging and paying for care.

For more information write to:
Help the Aged
Gifted Housing Office
37 St Kilda's Road
Park Bath BA2 3QL
Tel: 01225 447800

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Help and advice on repairs and improvements:

Home improvement agencies (HIAs) provide older homeowners and private tenants with help and advice on repairs, improvements and adaptations. Often called Care and Repair or Staying Put agencies, they are non-profit making, and usually run by local authorities and housing associations. There is an HIA in most areas.

If there is an agency in your area that can help you, someone will visit you to discuss your housing problems and will then help to organise whatever work is needed. They will also help to sort out the financial side of things. Contact one of the following groups to find out if there is a home improvement agency in your area:

Scotland - Care and Repair Forum Scotland on 0141 221 9879

You can contact Help the Aged at: Causewayside House 160 Causewayside Edinburgh EH19 1PR Telephone: 0845 833 0200 Email: enquiries@ageconcernandhelptheagedscotland.org.uk

(Apologies to AGEUK for any misquotes: Mae Stewart)

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