Gill Bottomley, leader of the Volunteer Benefits Appeals Team at Citizens Advice – Bath & North East Somerset, has won the Citizens Advice – Volunteer of the Year: Change Champion award.
Gill’s efforts since the start of lockdowns in March 2020 have been vital in ensuring financial security for residents across the region whose benefits were threatened.
Residents were put at serious risk of having their benefits reduced or losing them altogether due to the chaos at the Tribunal Service as a result of the pandemic. This caused judicial hearings for appeals against rejected claims to be listed out of sequence and without the normal notice period. Gill and her team sometimes only had two days in which to request postponements to allow sufficient time to prepare cases for the hearings.
To protect claimants, Gill upped her volunteering from two days a week to five and got a group of judges to agree to notifications being sent at least three weeks before the hearing date to allow enough time to prepare cases. These actions ensured that not one of their clients lost out due to the effects of lockdowns and that residents across Bath & North East Somerset could be reassured that the Benefits Appeals team would maintain their superb rate of winning appeals.
Gill was delighted with her award, as were all the team at the Bath & North East Somerset branch of the charity, where staff and volunteers have been working throughout the pandemic to ensure residents have the support they need.
The determination that Gill showed and the actions she took to get organisations to work together to battle adversity so as to prevent residents from losing out due to lockdowns was key to her being selected for the award.
Business Development & Marketing Manager at the charity, Douglas Eason, had this to say “I jumped up from my desk and cheered when the announcement was made at the online awards ceremony. All of the over 21,000 volunteers across Citizens Advice give so much to help people they’ve never met and it’s brilliant that Gill has been recognised for the huge positive impact she’s made to help people since the country went into lockdown.
“What I think is truly remarkable is how many thousands of lives she must have improved over the many years that she’s been volunteering with us. Our charity is really lucky to have such selfless and community-minded people like Gill giving their time and energy to help our clients.”
When asked what drove Gill to volunteer for Citizens Advice, she said that “Beyond the intriguing nature of appeals, which is one part detective, one part advocate and one part identifying failures in DWP decision-making, there is also enormous satisfaction to be gained through helping people. It feels great to make a difference in the life of another person, to support them through what are often lengthy, stressful, and confusing processes, and to ensure that they get all the benefits they’re entitled to in situations where the unique situations of individuals can often be overlooked.
“That satisfaction is amplified when you’re working with a team. Emma and Graham, the other members of the caseworker team, have been working their socks off and achieving great results despite all the frustrations of remote working. Without them, there would have been a lot of people across Bath & North East Somerset facing far worse financial situations than are currently being experienced by many of our charity’s clients.”
The charity is continuing to operate throughout the current lockdown, offering advice and support with benefits, debt, employment, discrimination, housing, and many other issues that people are dealing with right now.
- Click here if you’re interested in volunteering with Citizens Advice – Bath & North East Somerset.
- Click here if you need support with debt or employment issues.
- Click here if you’d like to make a contribution to our charity.