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TX: 13.08.03 – A NEW BREED OF BENEFIT ADVISORS

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON


ROBINSON
A You and Yours listener has drawn attention to a new breed of benefits advisors. They're offering 'No win no fee' consultations and they charge a percentage of what they manage to help you claim. Margaret Moore contacted You and Yours after seeing an advert in her local paper. It said that state benefits should be yours if you have arthritis, walking difficulties, breathlessness, dizziness or problems sleeping. Mrs Moore felt that the ad was misleading and she complained to the Advertising Standards Authority who are now investigating. The ad was placed by Steve de Bondt. He's a former welfare rights officer at a London council and he's now operating a benefits consultancy. He joins us on the line now from Portugal where he's on holiday.

You take a percentage of what you claim - how big a percentage?

DE BONDT
Well let's get this correct. It's purely a percentage of the backdate. These benefits take about 10 weeks to be processed and go through the system before the Department of Work and Pension awards and my percentage fee is 50% of whatever backdate it is. Any other money that the person gets after that is theirs.

ROBINSON
Is theirs. So let's - yes let's be absolutely fair about that then. You're only taking a percentage of any backdated claims…

DE BONDT
Well it's not …

ROBINSON
How much - how much?

DE BONDT
Sorry I said 50% …

ROBINSON
Fifty.

DE BONDT
But it's not strictly take, it's give, it's based on trust, so the client actually rings me up and says they've got the money can I send you the 50%, so I don't actually take it at source, the money actually goes to the client and I then rely on them to contact me and pay me.

ROBINSON
What's the most that you have ever been paid then?

DE BONDT
Err.

ROBINSON
In one payment.

DE BONDT
In one payment - I did get £1200 last year but that was because I got a client backdated for £6,000 income support, my fee on that occasion for backdates was 20%.

ROBINSON
You say, I know, that you are filling a gap in the free advice business and we've reported on that on this programme before - that the long, long queues that people can wait trying to get free advice. How many people are coming to you?

DE BONDT
On average we get about 15 phone calls a day but not all of those phone calls translate into actual cases because it is a free advice line. One of the advantages that I feel we have over other agencies is that a. that people can contact us on the phone and b. they don't have to queue at an advice agency because if I do any work for them I go to their homes and see them. Most of them, you see, are very disabled, they can't actually get out of their houses.

ROBINSON
As I was saying, and there has been a complaint about one of the ads that you have placed, the suggestion is that it's misleading by saying that people - suggesting people will definitely get benefits with certain conditions - what do you say to that?

DE BONDT
Well I don't think it says that people should definitely get benefits, it does advise them that maybe they should get benefits, I will admit that maybe that word should be changed to could and I'm in the process of doing that with the advertisement, so it's a fault on my part I suppose with my lack of English grammar. But to carry on - I think all I really do is advise people what benefits they're entitled to, I don't force people to actually use me, they do have a choice and I do give them the phone numbers of other agencies, including voluntary agencies if they should choose to use them.

ROBINSON
Do you see yourself as part of a new breed or do you think this is very much a one-off industry?

DE BONDT
I think a lot of people still like the idea of providing free advice, I like the idea of providing free advice and doing free casework. In my particular case it was a question of being made redundant at the age of 48 when I've got a skill and I know I'm good at it, what do I do next? So it's more a matter of necessity that I started up, what else would I do?

ROBINSON
You were saying that if somebody doesn't want to pay you they don't have to - what do you do then if people don't pay, how would the business survive?

DE BONDT
Well luckily the number of people who don't pay is very small but I do have a policy, I don't have a policy of enforcing contracts and I don't have a policy of following up bad debts because these people are disabled, they're on a very low income anyway and all I'm doing is making that low income from a very low one into just a low one. So I think it would be morally wrong for me to pursue anybody who wouldn't pay because of the financial difficulty they may originally be in.

ROBINSON
Steve De Bondt thank you.


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