Non-English speaking migrants in Northampton are being charged up to £1,000 for help to fill out benefit forms that could be done for free by local authorities, it has been claimed.
A number of Eastern European migrants new to the town have provided details of a business in they claim is preying on those with a minimal grasp of English.
The trader - whose business card simply reads “advisor” - is offering to complete benefits forms for things like child benefit and Jobsekers’ Allowance at extortionate rates.
The same advice is free at the Guildhall, Citizen’s Advice and Community Law Services, but the trader is charging a rate of £25 a meeting and then a further £25 “per correspondence” to complete the relatively simple process.
Two sources have shown evidence that they have been charged in excess of £1,000 and still not received the correct benefits.
The information was brought to the Chron’s attention by an interpreter who works with the Latvian community.
On woman who spoke to the Chron had been in England for around five years. She sought the services of the “advisor” because she was unaware free advice existed.
Speaking through an intepreter, she said; “She took everything, she took my passport, she took my son’s medical records.
“She had been keeping every single document I had with her.”
But the source said that despite repeated contact with the advisor her attempts at receiving child benefit failed.
“I got nothing,” she said. “It was like she had been pretending to do something. It was like she was just pretending to tap the computer in front of my eyes.
“I was struggling just to pay rent at the time, how was I meant to pay her as well?”
It was only when she sought the help of her interpreter, that she received the benefits. A process which only took two weeks.
A second person who had sought help to gain child benefits told a similar tale,
“I had just had a baby and I not have a clue how I was meant to claim for benefits,” she said.
“I had known other people who had been helped by [the advisor] and they said I should try them.”
The source now knows that due to her situation at home and the wage of her partner, she was never eligible to receive child benefit.
However she claims the advisor continued to string her on for a number of months, taking a total of £1,000 in fees.
The Chron has passed on the claims to local authorities in Northamptonshire.
A spokesperson for Northamptonshire County Council’s Trading Standards said; “Our advice for anyone wanting to find out what they are entitled to would be to go to their local Citizens Advice Bureau, as they provide advice and can direct people to other organisations which may be able to help.”
However, chief executive of Central and East Northamptonshire Citizens Advice Bureau, Martin Lord, said benefits advice for migrants should be “unambiguously free”.
He said: “If there is someone picking up this type of business, the chances are they are not giving a good service and they are not insured.
“There are rules related to claims management companies, which we all adhere to.
“We have tonnes of information on our website in lots of different languages. We welcome migrants with open arms.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman added: “Jobcentre Plus staff have the discretion to use interpreter or translation services where they consider necessary.”