A FARMING charity received a record rise in benefit enquiries from the agricultural sector in 2017.

RABI – the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution – helped people claim a record £472,809 in benefits last year – 65 per cent more than the £286,691 in 2016.

The rise follows widespread cutbacks to many benefits.

Trish Pickford, RABI’s head of welfare, said: “The nature of our work today is more time-consuming and more complex than in the past.

“People are falling through the net, being left with less money – or none at all – when benefits are stopped.

“Many also face the spectre of eviction and homelessness, while debt continues to be a big problem too.”

She said a lot of their time and effort also goes into giving information to people, which does not necessarily show up in the statistics.

“This includes such things as signposting people to other charities, as well as giving advice on claiming benefits and local authority funding procedures,” she said.

In 2017, RABI issued more than £1.9 million in grants to 1,260 individuals and families. This included grants of £297,416 to working people and their dependants.

The total sum also included: £58,000 towards home-help costs; £216,000 towards care home top-up fees; £197,000 clearing domestic bills and £146,000 on disability equipment and home adaptations.

RABI’s welfare staff take a variety of training courses, mainly in connection with Universal Credit – which is still being rolled out – and with mandatory reconsiderations and appeals on behalf of people turned down for Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments.

From January 1, RABI has increased its level of regular grants to those receiving long-term support. The charity has also taken on an additional regional officer, taking the number of welfare officers covering England and Wales to 14.

Paul Burrows, chief executive, said: “Providing financial support for farming families is at the heart of what we do, but there’s a lot more to it than simply sending out cheques in the post.

“Our welfare officers understand farming and its issues. They take the time to visit people, build relationships and talk through problems and possible solutions.

“Many people contact us when they have nowhere else to turn. We work with them to give them renewed hope and tailor our support to suit their needs.”

For more help and more information, call RABI on the freephone helpline 0808 281 9490.