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Victims' campaigner 'frustrated' at lack of access to benefits

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SEFF director Kenny Donaldson

SEFF director Kenny Donaldson

SEFF director Kenny Donaldson

Welfare advisers working on behalf of vulnerable clients have raised concerns that red tape is hindering access to benefits.

A victims' group said GDPR legislation is one major obstacle.

Kenny Donaldson, director of services with the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said some of the group's officers have been experiencing a range of difficulties when trying to assist people who are unable to get out of their homes.

He called on Stormont's Department for Communities to do more.

"Over the last 10 days there have been many positive announcements coming from DFC but we have serious concerns that the spirit of the department's announcements are not being carried out in practical terms and this needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency," said Mr Donaldson.

"Our advisers are reporting deep frustrations when they contact DFC concerning a client, they are met with the standard GDPR related response; 'We can't provide you with that information unless the individual is present'.

"Advisers are then getting clients to contact DFC to confirm their contentment that our advisers act on their behalf in progressing their case and still DFC are coming back with the same response.

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Kellie Armstrong

Kellie Armstrong

Kellie Armstrong

"This flies in the face of all the advice being given around social distancing. Are we going to reach a point where our advisers are standing outside houses with clients standing by windows and having conversations in this manner over FaceTime or Skype?"

A spokesperson for the department told the Belfast Telegraph: "Anyone claiming Universal Credit can use their online journal to authorise engagement between the Department and a third party. For other benefits, arrangements are in place to provide information to a third party, provided they can satisfy certain conditions, however we will not disclose certain personal information such as bank account details.

"The department complies with GDPR legislation to ensure our customers' personal data is protected at all times," added the spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong called on Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to give assurances her department can cope with the surge in benefit claims.

"People who have been laid off, even temporarily, are looking to benefits for support," the MLA said.

"Until we have clarity around support for furloughed workers from the UK Government, more and more people will be looking to Universal Credit and other benefits, as they face an uncertain financial future," she added.

Belfast Telegraph