People's Advocate Society volunteer Jeremy Roberts (left) is congratulated by manager Warwick Maguire for five years with the organisation.
by Brenda Vowden
Although they might not be a magic bullet, the People's Advocacy Society (PAS) are a bit like guardian angels, says PAS manager Warwick Maguire.
PAS was established in 1998, operating out of offices in Napier and Hastings and providing support, advice and advocating on behalf of clients who find it difficult to engage with government or local government agencies and departments. Warwick heads a team of seven, including a volunteer of five years, Jeremy Roberts.
"People come in for a variety of reasons. Most clients are beneficiaries navigating government departments. They are often associated with other departments and can have multiple interactions."
Jeremy says the organisation is often successful because they can talk to people up the chain.
"Some people don't even know how to get in the queue. If they ring and it takes too long, they don't hang around. They may have burned all their bridges, but we can usually get something for them. We give them another shot."
Warwick says some clients come in, tell their story and then sit back and expect to move into a new house.
"We're not a magic wand. We provide an avenue. There are a plethora of different benefits available which people aren't even aware of — heaps of them. They change all the time. Most people are grateful to get some help."
Team member and mentor Malcolm Gray brings another skill-set to the party, taking on benefit review cases.
"He takes the tricky, complicated cases, those accused of fraud and told they're not entitled to this or that. He'll fight those really tough cases," Warwick says.
The team also refers cases where they see fit.
"We work as a team. People have expertise in different areas. We also use other agencies — budgeting and community law. Benefit reviews are sometimes initiated by the Government. Some won't get out of the starting blocks."
Jeremy says they also review decisions.
"Some are told they aren't eligible for any additional support. We have to tell them 'sorry' For others, we can help them. We have a very high success rate and client satisfaction of some kind."
But the least success the organisation has is with housing.
"Some people think we can provide housing. We can't. We can only get you on a list. You have to go and present yourself with a quote to WINZ, which for some people is too tough. We also have illiterate people who have fallen through the cracks who want us to write a letter for them."
Some clients are seen over a number of years, while other people's problems are solved in a meeting or two.
"This is a very rewarding job. If we only get one success a week, we've changed that person's life. They've been listened to and their problems addressed. We're the end of the line for some people."
■ Napier People's Advocacy Service, within the CAB office, 18 Bower St, Bower House, (next to The Warehouse), Napier, phone 06 834 0206 or Hastings office, Level 5, 215 Railway Rd, Hastings, ph 06 650 6412 or email firstname.lastname@example.org