With the cost of living crisis worsening, it is vital that people in difficulty can access financial assistance quickly.
A new one-stop-shop online platform that enables people in need to receive grants and other help from charities and local authorities claims it massively speeds up the process – in some cases reducing the time it can take from several weeks or even months to just a few days.
Founded in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, Lightning Reach has been operating in beta mode since December and claims that so far it has helped people secure grants totaling over £1million.
As MPs this week warn that soaring energy bills will push millions into ‘unmanageable’ debt, and the cost of housing, food and a number of other essentials will rise, many people will fall into difficulties that never had to seek support before.
However, some of the charities that give grants have quite archaic systems – for example, many still use paper application forms that have to be returned by post – which can make the process long and cumbersome.
Instead of requiring people to complete paper forms and submit them with ID, Lightning Reach’s grants portal, developed with partners such as the Royal British Legion and Lambeth Council of London, allows people in financial difficulty to do everything online, including identity verification.
It aims to match people with personalized support that they may be eligible for depending on their situation, and also allows them to use the information provided in multiple applications to different organisations.
The platform says individuals can, in some cases, receive a financial hardship grant within five days of applying.
“It’s free, easy to use, accessible on a mobile phone, and it takes 10-15 minutes to fill out a profile and see what support is available,” a spokesperson said.
The operation of the platform eliminates the need to fill out many different forms and saves charities time and money, he added.
Becky Ireland, deputy head of wellbeing at Racing Welfare, a charity which supports people working in the racing industry, and which is one of the partners, says it is crucial to help as soon as possible people in financial difficulty. “But the application process can be slow because people have to download forms, fill them out, and then we have to verify their identity. This means that in some cases people may find that it takes them two or even three months to receive grants.
She says the charity has been using Lightning Reach for several weeks, “and it’s been groundbreaking.”
Other partners include the Smallwood Trust, which has helped low-income women since 1886, and the Teaching Staff Trust.
Lightning Reach said “many” other charities are set to join and are in talks with major energy companies to promote the platform to customers in financial difficulty. before the energy price cap rises again in October.
Chief Executive Ren Yi Hooi, who previously worked in fintech in Southeast Asia, said when the pandemic hit, she saw the need to help people suffering from sudden and unexpected financial difficulties. “My neighbors who worked in the hospitality industry, for example, were suddenly unable to work, leaving them stressed and unsure of how they would pay their bills.”
The platform has received funding from organizations such as Innovate UK, the national innovation agency, and Nesta, the UK innovation for social good foundation.