THERE are few people in Redditch with a bigger heart than Alex Powell.
The 37-year-old has dedicated his life to helping others, first at the Citizens Advice Bureau and now through his own Disability Support Project.
Confined to a wheelchair following a car accident, his niche is helping disabled people fight their corner when refused their Personal Independent Payments or Employment Support Allowance.
In between he also helps Universal Credit recipients budget when their benefit finally comes through, runs a club for anyone who feels they don’t fit in, and flies the flag for Redditch to such an extent that his services as an advocate are in demand across the country.
His own personal moment of triumph came last year when local MP Rachel Maclean asked Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to congratulate the Disability Support Project for effectively overturning decisions made in the name of her department.
The Secretary of State duly did so.
“I worked for DIAL – Disability Information and Advice Line – but they lost their funding and the chairman told me to go and start on my own charity so I did, and this is the result,” said father of five Alex.
The entire operation started in his bungalow but has now expanded into two rooms at the Ecumenical Centre with a third on the way.
The operation is run on a showstring by volunteers with Alex ‘paying’ them with bacon butties, cans of pop and sweet treats.
The secret of his success – and he has a 98 per cent success rate in appeals – is his integrity, integrity judges have grown to trust when cases go before tribunals.
They know that when Alex Powell or his best friend and business partner Nathaniel Tempest present a case, it’s going to be cast iron.
“People are being turned down in so many cases, particularly with PIP where the assessment can be carried out by someone who only meets the minimum medical requirements,” said Alex, an accountant originally by training.
“People also struggle with the forms and in many cases don’t really know what information is being asked of them.
“Another problem is pride – for instance you can’t get someone who is suicidal to tell someone they only met two minutes ago how they feel. That information has to be teased out.
“We do get the odd person trying to pull the wool over our eyes, and if I can prove the case is benefit fraud then I do what I’m supposed to do and report it.”
Among Alex’s fans is former Borough Mayor Councillor Anita Clayton, herself a mobility scooter user and former chair of Disability Action Redditch.
“Alex is absolutely marvellous – imagine being disabled and being turned down for your benefits and then imagine going to a tribunal, it’s terrifying.
“Then think how people who are mentally disabled cope – this is a truly amazing charity,” she said.
For more on the Disability Support Project or to sponsor their work, visit www.dspuk.org.uk call 01527 351021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org