We sat down to speak to Laura Hannon, General Manager of the BDA Benevolent Fund, to find out how they support young dentists in financial need.
Photo (c) Getty Images
Can you tell me a little about the BDA Benevolent Fund?
We are a charity which supports dentists, dental students and dependants in financial need. So, throughout your life, whether you are in training, in practice or are retired, you're eligible to apply to us for financial support.
Do young dentists apply for support?
Yes. Often the young dentists, who ask for our help, have found it difficult to transition from being an FD to being an Associate. Some find the move from being salaried to being self-employed quite a shock, particularly not being able to rely on the same amount of money coming in every month.
Those who do not manage to put money aside throughout the year for major one-off expenses, including the ARF, can end up in a tight spot. We also get requests from dental students who don't have the support of their families or are facing undue hardship.
Is the demand for support high?
Demand is definitely increasing. In 2019, we saw a 22% increase in applications for support when compared to the previous year. And so far in 2020, we've had three times more applications, than we did in January last year. If these trends keep up, we'll be seeing a big increase!
What advice would you give young dentists?
It's very important that you understand what self-employment means and how it works if you are an associate. The budgeting tool on our website can help you figure out how to take control of your finances. I would recommend doing your research; organisations like The Money Advice Service provide good easy-to-understand advice on everything from budgeting to debt management.
Understanding about your contract and your income is essential. Knowing about much sick and maternity pay you would be entitled to is also very important, so you're aware of your current circumstances and can plan for the future. Income protection insurance is another thing to consider.
Is debt management a big issue?
It can be. That's why, it's also important to know about debt and credit. This includes credit cards, overdrafts and car hire purchase agreements, to ensure you're making the most of your income.
I would also encourage young dentists not to borrow too much. Overstretching yourself financially can put you under huge pressure. It can affect your mental health and your work and may cause tensions with your partner or family. It also makes it much more difficult to deal with the unpredictable – an illness or any unexpected costs.
If someone is in need, how can they apply?
We've made the application process as straightforward as possible. We ask people to go to our website and fill out a form with information such as their current income, expenditure, savings and debts. We acknowledge all applications within 3 working days, but it's often much sooner than this.
We will call you to go through the form and to better understand what your worries are and how we can help, as all decisions are based on individual circumstances. Where possible, decisions are made within one week, if the right documents are provided. But I'd advise anyone under financial stress to reach out sooner rather than later.
Do you help everyone that applies?
Not everyone that applies receives funds, either because they haven't completed the process, because their circumstances have changed and they no longer need us or because they've got enough to pay their daily expenditure.
We work with the applicant throughout the process, give a rationale for every decision and signpost to other organisations to ensure everyone receives the right help or advice.
Is the support you offer only financial?
The main thing we do is funding dental students and dentists in hardship, but we're just about to launch a series of webinars focussing on money issues which will be free for the dental profession to sign up to and participate in.
We hope young dentists will take the opportunity to get some relevant, helpful information which will enable them to maximise their income, minimise debts and expenditure which will be useful in their personal and professional lives.
We also have an assistance programme called Health Assured – the same as the BDA - so we can support applicants with access to a 24/7 helpline and counselling, because when someone is in crisis, it isn't usually just about money.
If I wanted to help, how could I get involved?
We're always looking for more young dentists to get involved, and this is a great time to do it.
Right now, we are looking for a Trustee to join our Board. We are particularly keen to ensure the charity represents the needs of all dentists, and so we would welcome a young dentist to bring a diverse set of skills and experience. Don't worry if you've not been on a Board before, if you're passionate about supporting colleagues in need, we will provide training for whatever else you need to know.
Please get in touch with me for further information to learn more about the Trustee role. We're looking to put nominations up for election at our AGM on 11 June, and we'd love to hear from you.
Or if you're interested in getting involved, but can't make the commitment required to become a Trustee, then maybe think about joining our Advisory Council. This sits no more than twice a year and the first meeting will be in London on Saturday 4 April. Contact us if you would like more information.
General Manager of the BDA Benevolent Fund
If you would like to know more about the work of the BDA Benevolent Fund, visit their website, reach out by email or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
[Note: This piece has been editorialized for coherence.]