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A friend in need

ICE news

Most ICE members contribute to the ICE Benevolent Fund. Many see it as a way to help others in their time of need. But too few realise that it is actually there to help them - right now. A new profile-raising campaign aims to change that.

PUT SIMPLY, the ICE Benevolent Fund exists to help you. In the last year the Fund spent in excess of ú500,000 assisting 169 ICE members, former members, or their families who are sick, bereaved, in financial difficulties, unemployed, or simply in need of somewhere to live.

But too few members realise that it is there, says Fund Secretary Kris Barnett. 'The people we help tend only to come to us by chance, usually when they are having trouble paying their subs.'

The extent of the help available is quite staggering. It varies according to need and financial assistance is always an option, but often some friendly financial advice is all that is required, says Barnett.

'Often people think they need financial help when they don't. A lot of widows particularly don't realise what assets they have.

The first step when helping someone new is often to point them in the right direction to get them out of trouble.'

Once a case has been established - Charity Commission rules decree that all applicants are means tested - financial aid is often the second step. Aid may be in the form of a secured loan or lump sum grant to help with the purchase of special equipment which statutory bodies are unable to provide, or a regular grant to top up state funds for daily living. Any grant awarded does not affect state benefits.

Recent cases include one-off grants to a young disabled member to allow him to buy a special wheelchair, and to a family to travel to Disneyworld with a terminally ill child. In special circumstances grants can provide money towards holidays to get over traumas and educational grants are offered for those under 18.

The third means of assistance is probably the most recognised in the Fund: accommodation at the Mill Hill Close Estate in Haywards Heath. The estate has 40 flats and houses available to members and their dependants capable of independent living, but who find themselves in straitened circumstances. They are not retirement homes and rent is charged, but beneficiaries claim housing benefit to cover the cost.

However, Mill Hill Close is indicative of the Fund's problem of awareness. At present just 22 properties are let to Fund beneficiaries, with the remainder let privately. Indeed, the lack of demand prompted the Fund Trustees to threaten to sell-off the entire site last year. The plan was quashed, but the Fund is well aware of the need to get more beneficiaries in the homes.

'While the rents paid by private tenants effectively pays the maintenance of the estate, the point is that we don't want or need to rent any of the estate out commercially, ' says Barnett.

'We want it full of beneficiaries.'

Ian Towner Ian is 37 and suffers from ME.

Despite gaining a first class honours degree in civil engineering and starting out on a good career, ill health has prevented him from working full time. He first received assistance from the Fund in August 1999 and gets a monthly grant. Ian moved to Mill Hill Close in December 1999. This is his story.

'I was in a real pickle. When the department at my firm closed down and I was made redundant, my illness made it very difficult to get a new job. I spent six months looking, living on incapacity benefits. With half of that going to service my graduate loan and other student debts, I was in real dire straits.

I stumbled on the Fund entirely by accident. I hadn't paid my ICE fees, and called up the membership department to explain the situation. It was they who told me about the Fund. I'd been paying into it for years, but I'd just assumed it was for people with other problems.

The Fund has improved my life dramatically. My largest worry was where I was going to live. I was temporarily house-sitting for friends at the time, and so it was brilliant to be offered the place in Mill Hill Close.

The Fund has paid off some of my debts, and my rent is paid for by Housing Benefit. I also get a monthly grant which makes all the difference - it lets me afford a few nights out or a new pair of shoes.

Having the security has enabled me to settle down, and that means my health has improved dramatically. Now I can work parttime, which allows me to live relatively well and I am now looking to get back into engineering - in fact I have three job interviews this week.

I love my engineering, and would be desperately sad to give it up. Without the Benevolent Fund I would have had little choice.'

Peter and Pauline Wadsworth

Pauline suffers with a heart condition and asthma and Peter was not working as he was caring for Pauline. They first received help from the Fund in August 1997 in the form of a monthly grant and loan. They moved to Mill Hill Close from Lancashire in August 2000 and pay a low rent. Peter is now working. This is their story.

'Our problems began in 1996.

After a prolonged illness Pauline was given medical retirement, and I was given early retirement from Manchester City Council. We were stuck with a huge mortgage and negative equity on a big old rambling house - a hangover from days when we cared for lots of foster children - which was in need of major repairs. We had more going out than was coming in, and Pauline's health wouldn't have allowed any building work, even if we had the money.

I had always been perhaps more aware of the Benevolent Fund than most as my father had been a beneficiary of a similar fund at the then Institution of Municipal Engineers. So I always used to put a bit extra in, not ever thinking it would be for me.

We made contact in summer 1997 and within half an hour the wheels were in motion. The Fund immediately gave us ú200 a month to keep us afloat while we tried to sell up. It took three years, and in the end we sold with ú5,000 negative equity, loaned to us by the Fund against my life insurance.

We moved down in summer 2000 with some trepidation.

But our fears were so unfounded. The house was immaculate. There was even a plant and a welcome card.

The fear is that you are coming to an 'old age circuit', but it is not like that at all.

Increasingly younger people are coming here, and this has helped to form a real community spirit.

We can't say anything but positive things - it's like a whole new life opening up. I've even managed to establish my own highway design practice. It's ideal for working from home, and business has taken off to the extent that we now pay rent and can even afford to go on holiday for the first time in years.

I didn't realise how much I enjoyed working until I took retirement. It keeps my mind active, and keeps me in the industry. The Benevolent Fund has allowed me to keep doing it.'

Jane Jones

Jane's husband David suffered from cancer and received monthly grants from January 1992. Jane moved from Worcestershire to Mill Hill Close in September 1994 after David's death in July that year.

She pays a low rent and works locally.

'Our problems began with negative housing equity in the 1980s. We had just got back on our feet when my husband developed cancer. It's amazing how the money goes when someone is ill.

Initially the Fund gave us a monthly grant to pay the bills, and when my husband died, rather than drop me they offered me a house. We had been flooded the previous Christmas, so I had no reservations about accepting the offer. The house was lovely then and it still is.

I am too young to get a full state pension, and wouldn't get housing benefit, so without the Fund I would have struggled. I am absolutely thrilled to bits.'

Vince Hill Vince suffers from manic depression. He lives on his own in Nottinghamshire and has received a monthly grant since January 1996.

My illness has had a devastating effect on my life. Starting in 1985, it reached a peak in 1994 when I had complete breakdown and simply could not work. I contacted the Benevolent Fund in 1996 when I realised that I couldn't afford to pay my ICE fees. I didn't want to leave the Institution, as I hoped one day to go back to work, so I asked the Fund if they would pay my fees.

What they actually did was much more.

In total they give me around ú3,000 a year in monthly sums and occasional lump sums to supplement my DSS and Income Support payments.

Without this I would have very little scope in life, spending all my time in front of the TV.

As it is I now live in a council flat - I've lost two homes in my life. But with the Fund I have been able to set myself up with new carpets, kitchen units and bedroom furniture. I have even managed to buy a new computer system.

The Fund makes all the difference between coping and going out and actually having a life.

My only problem is in finding ways to thank them enough - all I can offer is words.

Annual report 2001 report of the trustees.

In the year ending 31 December 2001 the Fund assisted 127 adults and 42 children in the UK. A total of 22 beneficiaries were accommodated in property belonging to the Fund, some receiving grants as well as accommodation. In 17 countries overseas, 43 adults and 25 children were assisted.

At the end of the year, the market value of the capital investments in the Fund had dropped from ú14.5M to ú12.5M. Cash deposits, however, had risen to ú180,000.

Trading by the Fund's investment managers resulted in realised losses of ú666,000 compared with ú1.4M in the year 2000. There were also unrealised losses of ú1.5M in the value of investments at the end of the year, as against unrealised gains of ú527,000 at the end of 2000.

The poor performance was attributed to the poor performance of the London Stock Exchange.

The AGM of the Benevolent Fund was held on 4 September at the ICE.

INFOPLUS

If you think the Fund could help you in any way, all you need do is call the Fund's offices on (01444) 417979. All telephone conversations are confidential.

Alternatively, e-mail benfund@ice. org. uk

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