Newsmaker: Pioneering net benefits

Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of turn2us, wants to create a web portal for people to see what assistance is available to them.

Jolanta Lasota
Jolanta Lasota

There are 13 million people living in poverty, £8bn in unclaimed benefits and 750 charities that give money to people in need. These figures led to Jolanta Lasota's involvement with the new charity turn2us.

The charity, which was launched last month, brings all the help that is available for people in need together in one place. The charity's website will be a port of call where people can see what help they are entitled to, including state benefits and grants from charities and benevolent funds.

"I was attracted by the power of such a simple solution," Lasota says. "What we're trying to do is not rocket science: we want to bridge the gap between the sector and the public."

Lasota, previously head of the Governance Hub at the NCVO, says her former job made her aware of the complexity of the sector. "It's like a huge shopping mall with hundreds of shops, but no map for people to know where to buy things," she says.

"There is a huge number of charities with asset bases, many of which don't have the resources to reach out to people who might need that help."

Turn2us approached all the 750 charities that offer grants or other financial help for people in need and were likely to be interested in featuring on the website; so far 160 have signed up, and the charity now receives about 10 requests a day from charitable organisations.

The website enables users to search grants and benefits by location or by need, and to contact the relevant organisations directly. All enquiries are anonymous and people can open accounts with turn2us to manage their grant application processes.

"My vision is to set up the best, most up-to-date and accessible service for people living in poverty," Lasota says. She wants to start promoting the website to intermediaries who could make referrals, such as welfare officers or Citizens Advice Bureau advisers. "Even intermediaries are not always aware of the fact that charities give cash away," she says. "For example, a CAB officer helping someone to move into new council accommodation might not know the person is eligible for a grant to buy furniture, thus saving him or her from taking out a bank loan."

Lasota hopes to train volunteers so that they will be able to visit vulnerable people in their homes and help them to create turn2us accounts on their behalf. The charity will also launch a publicity campaign at the end of next year to encourage the use of its services.

"Turn2us is still in its infancy, and it's important we ensure we provide the right level of exposure to charities that are not used to this level of publicity," Lasota says. "Charities are able to switch themselves on and off our database, but we must also be able to deal with complex queries from people, such as disability living allowances, and make adequate referrals."

Some critics initially feared turn2us would tread on the toes of other initiatives, such as the Benevolence Today campaign, which raises awareness of benevolence.

"I am not interested in empire building or duplicating the work of other people," Lasota says. "The Benevolence Today campaign is a campaign for a service. We're the mechanism to cash in on that service."

The next challenge for turn2us will be to enlist all the charities and give them the right level of service. It also needs to find new funders, but Lasota is confident it will do so.

"I think you know you're on to a winner when people just click with the idea," she says. "I keep being asked why hasn't this been done before. It's because it's so simple and obvious, and everyone always thinks someone else has already done it."

Lasota CV

2007: Chief executive, turn2us

2006: Head of the Governance Hub, NCVO

2001: Director of marketing and fundraising, I Can

2000: Interim director of fundraising, International Fund for Animal Welfare

1998: Head of corporate fundraising, Shelter

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