Category Archives: news

Citizens Advice Ipswich urges government against “devastating” Universal Credit cut

  • Local charity says 53% of people seeking its advice on benefits have never needed its support before
  • Number of people claiming Universal Credit in Ipswich has risen 85% since the pandemic began

A local charity has warned of the “devastating impact” of a scheduled cut to Universal Credit in April.

Staff and volunteers at Citizens Advice Ipswich have helped 982 people with Universal Credit since March last year. Around 53% of people in Ipswich seeking its advice on benefits have never contacted the charity before.

Advisers say many needing support from the benefits system have lost their job or suffered a drop in income as a result of the pandemic.

Citizens Advice Ipswich, which has continued to provide one-to-one support throughout the pandemic, warns that local families could be pushed into further hardship if the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift ends as planned in April.

In the East of England, the number of people claiming Universal Credit has risen 105% since the pandemic started. This compares to a rise of 93% nationally.

For households in the East of England, the loss of £20 a week is equivalent to almost 3 days food or 6 days energy costs.

Steve Dixon, Help to Claim Universal Credit Adviser at Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

‘As well as helping people with claims for Universal Credit, we are seeing a huge increase in the numbers of households needing help with food and energy costs. Without the £20 we will see even more of these requests. It’s very worrying. Removing the Universal Credit uplift payment will plunge thousands of recipients from the breadline into poverty. The gov’t felt the uplift was critical last April and the effects of COVID look set to continue beyond April so the uplift continues to be vital for the households we are helping, whether in work or having lost their jobs?’

A client with a very young family said yesterday:

‘I need support now. I haven’t got enough petrol to go to the cheaper shops for food and I don’t know what I will do if I can’t top up my electric meter.’

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“We support people every day whose lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic. For many of them, Universal Credit is the lifeline that has helped pay the bills and put food on the table.

“But households across Ipswich now face the devastating prospect of a £20 a week cut to their benefits in just a few short months.

“With a tough outlook in the jobs market, we’re urging the government to continue doing the right thing and maintain the Universal Credit uplift.”

Vacancy – Front Desk Concierge

Contract:       Permanent
Salary:            £17,000 per annum pro rata
Hours:            30 hours a week (full-time)

An exciting opportunity has arisen to join Citizens Advice Ipswich as the Front Desk Concierge for the joint building occupation of 19 Tower Street, Ipswich.  This new role is to provide a professional first contact for all customers, staff and visitors who come to the building.  The role will also be required to perform administrative tasks connected to the service provision of Citizens Advice as a whole.

To be successful in this role you will be able to provide excellent customer service, and always present and conduct yourself in a professional and courteous manner.  You will have the ability to interpret and understand customer needs to enable you to refer them to the business unit that they require.  You will understand the importance of security and data protection to ensure all those coming to the building are safe and their personal information is protected.  You will have an open and friendly demeanour and be able to work as part of a diverse team.

If you think you would fit the description above and would like to join our dedicated and professional team then please contact Nazmin Khan (admin support) for an application form at nazmin.khan@ipswichcab.org.uk or on (01473) 219770.

If you would like to talk about the role please contact Margaret Vane (Citizens Advice Operations Manager) on: 01473 932 320.

Closing Date:  Monday 8th February 2021
Interview Date: Thursday 18th February 2021

Citizens Advice Ipswich celebrates after receiving £96,000 from the National Lottery to support our welfare benefits casework

Citizens Advice Ipswich celebrates after receiving £96,000 from the National Lottery to support our welfare benefits casework

Local Advice Charity, Citizens Advice Ipswich, is today celebrating after being awarded just over £90,000 in National Lottery funding to support welfare benefits casework. The grant will fund our welfare benefits specialist to help clients maximise their income through benefits claims and appeals.

Citizens Advice Ipswich has been running since 1974 and is staffed by around 60 volunteers and 32 staff. Access to and problems with welfare benefits is the most sought-after area of advice with over 2000 clients receiving advice on benefits in 2020.

Understanding how to access the benefits system when it is needed for people losing their jobs, starting a family, becoming sick or reaching retirement age is a complicated journey. Our welfare benefits work covers supporting people to understand the benefits system and work out if they are entitled to a benefit and at what rate. We help people apply for Universal Credit and other benefits for people on low incomes. We help people understand disability benefits, housing and council tax reductions and work out how they can be as well off as possible. We also support people to challenge decisions made that they think are wrong. In the last year we have supported clients improve their income to the tune of around £500,000 in total through in-depth benefits advice casework. This generous grant will underpin this work and ensure it carries on for another three years.

The new funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, which distributes money raised by National Lottery players for good causes and is the largest community funder in the UK, will fund a specialist caseworker to take these complex cases.

At the same time, Citizens Advice Ipswich will carry on with training new advisers into benefits advice work to increase our capacity in the years to come which we know from our statistics will continue to be a burgeoning work area for us.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich, says:

“We’re delighted that The National Lottery Community Fund has recognised our work in this way. Now, thanks to National Lottery players we will be able to press on with our work to maximise incomes for some of the least well off in Ipswich. This is vital because coming out of COVID and supporting people affected by the disease and its economic impacts, Citizens Advice will continue to be a lifeline for the community.”

Half a million renters in arrears as evictions set to resume

  • In December, Citizens Advice helped someone every two minutes with an issue to do with their privately rented housing
  • Average amount owed on rent is over £700, with an estimated £360 million owed across the UK.
  • Since October, Citizens Advice Ipswich have dealt with over 500 issues concerning housing and rent arrears
  • One in four private renters in arrears have been threatened with eviction or cancellation of contract by their landlord

Half a million private renters in the UK are behind on their rent, with protections against eviction due to expire this weekend, according to Citizens Advice.

This comes as the country enters another period of national lockdown, causing further economic hardship. Renters have already been badly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic with one in three private renters losing income.

For the majority struggling with their rent, this is a new challenge – 58% of those behind on rent had no rent arrears in February 2020. For people already struggling with rent before the pandemic hit, their arrears have got worse for 40% of them. On average, people who have fallen behind on rent now owe £730, which would mean around £360 million is owed across the country. Mortgage payers have been able to benefit from formal payment holidays, but renters have been forced to fall back on negotiating month-by-month with their landlords.

The temporary ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions in Tiers 2, 3 and 4 ends on Monday (11 January) and Citizens Advice is warning that, without further help for renters, an avalanche of evictions could take place in the spring.

A quarter of those the charity surveyed who have rent arrears have already been threatened with eviction, termination of their rental contract, or handed an eviction notice despite the current rules.

Citizens Advice is calling for:

  • A legal ban on bailiff action and pause on all possession proceedings during the national lockdown in England and in tiers 2 and above beyond 11 January
  • targeted financial support for people in England who’ve built up rent arrears. The government should consider a system of grants and government-backed loans – comparable to schemes in Scotland and Wales – to help people pay back their rent arrears sustainably and stay in their homes
  • .

Case Study

Jacob* is a student who works as a cleaner to make ends meet. Due to a flare up of a health condition which was worsened by lockdown, he had to stop working. He’s since been living off Universal Credit (UC) and his student loan. The UC includes the maximum housing allowance but this doesn’t cover his rent.

His student loan complicated his UC entitlement, so for a few months during lockdown the loan was his only form of income. This wasn’t enough to cover his rent and other basic living costs, and he had to reduce his rent payments.

He contacted his letting agent to try and negotiate a temporary reduction. However, the agent didn’t reply to his email or any other contact for over three months during lockdown. When they did finally get back to him, they declined his request and notified him that he was in arrears. Jacob is now worried that he could be evicted.

Jacob says:

“I’ve no idea what might happen, and that’s the scary thing. Every day I’m waiting for a letter to say that he wants to sell the place, or change the tenancy or something like that. It’s always in the back of my mind that you’re going to get home and there’s a letter to say ‘Section 21’.”

“The only thing I can remember the government making clear was the ban on evictions – that was the thing they were pushing. How is that going to help anybody when the ban is lifted? You can still be evicted because you’ve got arrears. That has just added to the pressure.”

Citizens Advice Ipswich Deputy Manager, Nelleke van Helfteren, said:

“We’re seeing an increasing number of people come to us for help with rent arrears. This includes people who only six months ago had a well-paid job but were made redundant due to the pandemic and are finding it very difficult to find a job on a similar level.

“In some cases, they have built up arrears despite having sought and followed advice to claim the correct benefits and reduce expenses. When this hasn’t been enough they have then had to go on to sell their phone and other belongings – or even gone without food – in an attempt to keep up payments on their rent and other bills.

“If the eviction ban ends, for some families this will mean going from having a home, to living out of a bag. They’ll have to start their lives all over again – all due to an unprecedented situation that was totally out of their control.”

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“As coronavirus restrictions once again tighten for everyone, the government must not forget the struggles of private renters. They currently face the prospect of losing their home once the eviction ban ends next week and the debt they have built up is likely to cast a long shadow over their future.

“Half a million private renters remain behind on their rent, with the majority falling behind during the pandemic restrictions. Unlike people who own their homes, private tenants have had no structured way to defer payments but instead have had to try to keep up with their rent and bills as best they can in a time of great uncertainty and hardship.

“Even though many landlords are trying their best to support their tenants, thousands of renters could face eviction in the coming months without further help. The government must act decisively to prevent evictions in areas subject to the highest coronavirus restrictions. And they should provide targeted support to help people escape the trap of rent arrears in the New Year.”

Citizens Advice Ipswich shares top tips for safe and savvy shopping this Black Friday

Ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Citizens Advice Ipswich is reminding consumers of their online shopping rights and how to make sure they stick to their budget.

Citizens Advice Consumer Service has seen the number of people seeking help about online shopping nearly double, with almost 125,000 online shopping-related issues raised so far this year compared to 74,000 in the same period in 2019.

With England still in lockdown, sale shopping will look a little different this year so Citizens Advice Ipswich experts are on hand to make sure you know your consumer rights and help keep within your budget.

Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager, shares top tips to help consumers stay safe online:

If you change your mind about a purchase

If you buy online, unless it’s bespoke, made to measure, or you’ve broken a digital or hygiene seal, by law you will get an automatic 14-day cooling-off period. This starts the day after you receive your order, and there doesn’t need to be anything wrong with the item for you to get a refund.

If you buy something in person, shops aren’t legally required to accept returns for unwanted goods. Despite this, the shop may choose to have its own returns policy. If it does, they must honour it, so it’s worth checking your receipt.

If you’re worried your purchase is faulty

If something’s gone wrong with an item you’ve bought, you may be entitled to a refund. You’ll have legal rights if you unwittingly bought an item that is broken or damaged, unusable, not what was advertised or doesn’t match the seller’s description.

You’ll have to move quickly, if you’ve bought a faulty item sellers must give you a refund if you return the item within 30 days. Your rights don’t end after 30 days, though after this period the retailer doesn’t necessarily have to refund you, instead they have the option of repairing or replacing the faulty product.

If you’re worried about scams

Be careful not to end up with a counterfeit item. Secure websites should start “https” and have a padlock symbol in the taskbar. Be wary of spelling or grammar mistakes, and companies that don’t provide an address.

Also seek out reviews of the seller from other buyers as these can help you decide whether or not you trust the seller. If there is a lot of negative feedback from other people, it’s often a sign that something’s not right.

If you’re worried that something you’ve seen online might be a scam, you can get help from the Citizens Advice Scams Action service.

If there’s a problem with your Black Friday or Cyber Monday delivery

With more people buying online, more people are experiencing delivery problems. 41% of adults in the East of England have had a parcel delivery problem since the first lockdown in March.

If you bought something to be delivered, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you. If the seller used a delivery company, they should chase the company to find out what’s happened to your order – it’s not your responsibility.

Check the delivery address you gave the seller. Then contact them and ask where your order is. Be careful in selecting safe places; if you nominate a safe place and the parcel is stolen you might have lost the right to a replacement.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive, at Citizens Advice Ipswich shares her advice to keeping within your budget:

“With so many bargains around at this time of year, many people across Ipswich may feel the pressure to part with their money.

“With the uncertainty that coronavirus has brought, it’s important that anyone thinking about turning to credit or taking out a loan to help pay for purchases understands the full costs involved and if they can actually afford to pay it back.

“If you are struggling with your finances, it may feel overwhelming but it’s best to do something about it as soon as possible. You can come to us at Citizens Advice Ipswich to get free debt and money advice which can help you find a way forward and avoid spiralling debts.”

Citizens Advice Ipswich share their top budgeting tips:

Spend time shopping around, researching what deals are on offer and getting advice.

Always look at the total amount you will have to repay when borrowing money. A shorter repayment period may be better than a slightly lower Annual Percentage Rate (APR) amount.

Take care when looking at buy-now-pay-later deals. It might seem like a good option but you’ll need to make sure you pay on time in future. If you don’t, these deals can be very expensive. Even if the deal is interest-free, you should still check that you’ll be able to pay it off in the time period, if not it could damage your credit rating.
Never borrow money on the spur of the moment. Think about payment options beforehand. Work out your budget and stick to it so that you can afford the repayments.

Notice of AGM

IPSWICH AND DISTRICT CITIZENS ADVICE BUREAU

(Company number 3438957)

NOTICE OF ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING TO BE HELD AT

2.00PM ON 23 SEPTEMBER 2020

(In accordance with regulations introduced in the light of the pandemic (The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act), the Annual General Meeting will be held electronically and will only deal with the formal matters which are required to be dealt with at the Annual General Meeting.

Charities call for council tax reform ahead of August debt D-Day

money
Photo by Negative Space from StockSnap

Government changes could risk creating a debt D-Day of 23 August

Over 1.3 million households nationally are likely to have built up council tax arrears because of coronavirus

Carers and people who’ve been shielding are likely to be hit hardest

Following legislation that came into effect on Wednesday 24 June, the ban on face-to-face bailiff collection will now come to an end on 23 August. This is the same day as protections from eviction end for people in the private rented sector and comes at a time when redundancies are expected to rise.

According to figures from the Local Government Association, over £500m of council tax has gone unpaid during the coronavirus outbreak, a figure which could mean over 1.3million households in council tax arrears. While many councils have been supporting residents during the pandemic, their precarious financial position – and the government’s restrictive rules – may leave them little choice about calling in the bailiffs in August.

Citizens Advice in Ipswich, Babergh and Mid Suffolk are pleased that the Shared Revenues Partnership that is in charge of Council Tax Collections for these three Councils have signed up to the Citizen Advice Council Tax protocol. This shows a commitment to making council tax collection fairer. But the current government regulations tie their hands on how fair and flexible they can be – that’s why we’re calling for reforms of these rules.

We will work with the Shared Revenues Partnership to support residents who have fallen behind with payments in these difficult times with the aim of reducing the need for formal enforcement proceedings which can ramp up the costs and make clearing the debt even more difficult.

Since January, the 3 local Citizens Advice have dealt with over 330 issues of council tax arrears (Ipswich has dealt with over 187 issues of council tax arrears) and we know that figure will rise when the Councils start to contact households who have fallen behind.

Nicky Willshere Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Ipswich said:

“The more that can be done to support households in arrears BEFORE bailiffs are called in to play, the more cost-effective and efficient the process can be. We continue to urge the Councils to use Bailiff enforcement as a LAST RESORT rather than an automatic first step.”

Residents really don’t need to worry alone – we are here to help. We have teams of qualified Money Advisers ready to support with these and other debts. We can also help households make claims for Council Tax Reduction or Discretionary Housing Payments”

Research from Citizens Advice has shown that council tax arrears have hit some groups particularly hard. People who are behind on their council tax because of Covid-19 are twice as likely to have been shielding or at increased risk of the virus. They are also four times more likely to be caring for older family members.

The UK’s three largest debt charities – Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust and Stepchange – last week wrote to the Local Government Minister to call for urgent action on council tax. The charities are urging the government to implement simple measures that could protect millions of people from the prospect of spiralling council tax debt.

The charities are warning of potentially huge problems for those behind on council tax. Outdated government regulations mean councils often resort to bailiffs to collect outstanding debts. These rules drive councils to use court-based enforcement to recover council tax arrears, which is both harmful and inefficient. In 2018-19, the use of bailiffs added £200 million of fees to people’s debts, but councils recovered less than 30p out of every pound of debt referred. Councils are also the largest users of bailiffs – 1.4 million council tax debts were passed to bailiffs by councils in England and Wales in 2018/19.

Central government reform is needed to resolve this problem before the bailiff ban is lifted. The charities are calling for simple changes to the council tax regulations to give councils more flexibility to recover debts outside the court process. This decision can be enacted by ministers without taking up precious parliamentary time and has been supported by local councils.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The government now has a two-month window of opportunity to make changes to council tax collection that will help millions of people facing the prospect of spiralling debt. Over the last few years, Citizens Advice has helped hundreds of thousands of people with council tax arrears.

“Using bailiffs to collect debts is a blunt tool that’s extraordinarily damaging to those on the receiving end, and economically ineffective for councils. Former government ministers, backbenchers, charities, campaigners and councils themselves are lining up to call for change on this issue.

“People struggling with their council tax bills could now face a nervous summer waiting for the knock at the door. The government must take the opportunity to act to help people avoid this.”

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said:

“There is an urgent need for changes to the way that council tax is collected before bailiff visits are allowed to resume. The government must act to change the rules to ensure local authorities collect council tax debts in a fair and compassionate way, giving people the time they need to repay without unnecessarily resorting to bailiffs.

“Sadly, millions of people have already fallen behind with their bills – these changes are needed now to prevent a bad financial situation being made worse by heavy-handed debt collection practices.”

Phil Andrew, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said:

“As things stand, there is a fundamental disconnect between the way in which enforcement against debts like council tax is being restarted and the way in which regulated lenders are expected and required to behave by the FCA, with a clear focus on realistic affordability and fair treatment. It’s simply not right that, after everything we’ve experienced through the pandemic, the resumption of council tax debt collection and enforcement seems set to resume on a “business as usual” basis.

“Improving council tax debt collection needs to be part of the Government’s wider post-Covid financial recovery strategy. If ever there was a time to grasp the nettle and reform the outdated mechanisms that hinder local authorities from adopting a more compassionate, flexible and realistic way of reaching affordable repayment plans on council tax, now is surely that moment.”

Citizens Advice Ipswich thanks its wonderful volunteers for their dedication

National Volunteers Week 1 – 7 June

Citizens Advice Ipswich has continued giving advice to those in need throughout the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the tireless dedication of its staff and volunteers.

The team quickly rallied to ensure as many people as possible could be helped over the phone or via email.

As part of Volunteers’ Week, which runs from 1 to 7 June, Ipswich Citizens Advice wants to thank volunteers for their contribution not only during this exceptional time, but throughout the year.

Over the past year, 53 volunteers at Citizens Advice Ipswich have contributed around 200 hours each week. Since we have adapted to working from our homes, a small number of volunteers have taken a back seat due to other commitments, but the vast majority have been able to continue to help clients remotely, with the support of the supervisors, trainer and technical support staff.

In the last year, Citizens Advice Ipswich has helped 5,000 people with 28,000 issues such as debt, housing, benefit and employment.

Lilian, volunteer at Citizens Advice Ipswich said:

“I am really grateful to Citizens Advice Ipswich for giving me structure and purpose at this time when so much regular activity has been taken away due to Covid 19. I have been able to help clients by phone from home, with support from the supervisors who really support us. I am spending a little longer on the phone with clients than I would be when working from Tower Street, maybe because we all like to speak to someone.”

Martin C, who started volunteering in February 2019 says:

“I chose to volunteer with Citizens Advice Ipswich as I was keen to support the local community. I wanted to use my life skills and experience to help other people and to gain a better understanding of how volunteering can benefit both the individual and our clients. Since joining in February 2019 I have acquired a greater depth of knowledge regarding a wide range of issues including; housing, benefits, debts, and work related problems. The training has been comprehensive and has equipped me to, both, assist Clients seeking advice, and remain impartial whilst doing so. Colleagues have been very welcoming and keen to help me learn.”

“Continuing to volunteer with Citizens Advice Ipswich during the coronavirus outbreak has been hugely challenging but deeply rewarding. I have had to adapt to new methods of working remotely from the office and acquire new technology skills which, at times, has proved to be quite stretching. The feeling that you are continuing to support people through these unprecedented times and, for what are for many, life changing decisions has been truly humbling.”

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“This year we were particularly delighted by the partnership with the Law School at the University of Suffolk, which saw 6 law students join our ranks to train into advice roles which has given them great insights into how the law impacts on people in their everyday lives.”

Bob Boxall-Hunt, Chairman at Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“Throughout the year our wonderful volunteers contribute their time and energy to make a huge difference to people’s lives and help keep our vital service running.

“Whether they have been able to continue in their role recently, or have paused their volunteering, their support throughout the year has been truly invaluable.”

“As well as helping people through the pandemic related issues, our clients continue to need help with a range of issues that go on in the background and our volunteers and advice workers are here to help five days a week.”

“I cannot thank them enough for their continued dedication. We really couldn’t do it without them.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering with Citizens Advice Ipswich contact us via the contact page on this website. There is also information on our volunteering page and more information about the types of roles we offer on the national Citizens Advice website.

Time for the government to “stand by its promise” to renters

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood, StockSnapPhoto by Suzy Hazelwood from StockSnap

The government has just one month to act before measures protecting private renters from evictions proceedings expire.

Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government previously said that ‘no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home’, before announcing a temporary pause on repossession action. This pause is currently scheduled to end on 25 June.

Citizens Advice is warning this presents a ‘cliff-edge’ that will pitch some renters into long-term debt or homelessness.

The charity says the government must act now to prevent larger-scale problems and save people from losing their homes.

Research by the charity earlier this month suggested that 2.6 million private renters had already missed, or expected to miss, a rent payment because of coronavirus.

In the two months since lockdown began, Citizens Advice has helped over 10,000 people with issues around the private rented sector. Of these, over 1,000 of their issues related to possible eviction, despite the government’s protections.

In Ipswich, we have assisted over 200 people with housing and rent arrears issues since the lockdown.

The charity is calling for additional protections for renters vulnerable to eviction because of coronavirus. These include:

Accelerating the process to end section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions

Putting in place temporary changes allowing the courts more discretion for tenants in arrears because of coronavirus

When these measures are in place, implementing a ‘pre-action protocol’ of steps that landlords must follow before they can bring possession proceedings.

A report out today (22 May 2020) from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee has endorsed these recommendations. It’s calling for the abolition of section 21 evictions and greater discretion for judges to prevent possession action where arrears have built up owing to Covid-19. If implemented, these changes should give the pre-action protocol the necessary ‘teeth’.

Case Study

Julie* works in retail and has been furloughed while the business she works for is closed. While she normally takes home about £1,100 a month through her work and overtime, she is currently only receiving £700 a month (a 36% fall in income), causing huge strain to her finances.

Julie says:

“I started worrying as my wages would only cover my rent. Citizens Advice suggested that I ask my letting agency to lower the rent for a few months.”

“The agency came back to me saying that I should pay what I could afford. Then they said that the rent had to be paid at a rate set by them or I would be evicted.

“They started putting a lot of pressure on me and even said I should cancel payments for everything I did not need to ensure I could pay my rent. I suffer from anxiety so this is really stressful as I have loans, bills, food and my council tax to pay.”

“I’ve been able to get a Debt Management Plan for my loans so it’s now a bit more manageable. But even with this plan in place, I’ve had to apply for Universal Credit as I barely have enough to cover my food, let alone my essential bills”.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“There’s just one month to go before the protections that were put in place to protect renters from eviction during the coronavirus outbreak run out.

“In the midst of this pandemic, it’s not right that renters should face the looming threat of eviction. With millions of people out of work and millions more on reduced incomes, it is a real struggle for many people to pay their rent.

“The government said no one should be forced out of their home because of coronavirus. It’s now time to stand by that promise and protect renters from the prospect of long-term debt or homelessness. ”

While Furlough extension protects households from financial cliff edge, shielded groups and vulnerable workers will need right to access the scheme, says Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice has responded to the Chancellor’s announcement on the extension of the Job Retention Scheme.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Extending the furlough scheme and allowing employers to bring back their workers part-time are sensible steps to protect household finances. The Job Retention Scheme was an unprecedented intervention which has protected jobs and put money in people’s pockets. We have made clear that changes to the scheme would be needed to make sure people don’t face a financial cliff edge.

“Sadly, we continue to see cases where people in the shielded group are being denied furlough. People in this group need a right to access this scheme if they cannot work safely. Nobody should be forced to choose between paying the bills or protecting their health.”

New evidence from Citizens Advice suggests some of the most vulnerable workers in society are having their health put at risk by their employer not furloughing them, despite being eligible for the government’s support.

It comes as the Chancellor extends the Job Retention Scheme, which has been used by 800,000 employers to furlough 6.3 million jobs.

The charity’s frontline advisers are already helping workers in the shielded group, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, who have been denied furlough despite instructions to stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact. Many have been left relying on £95.85 per week from Statutory Sick Pay and any additional benefits they might be entitled to.

In the week after applications for the Job Retention Scheme launched on 20 April, Citizens Advice gave one-to-one employment advice to almost 4,200 workers. An in-depth analysis of a randomised sample of a tenth of these cases showed that over 70% of those who are shielding or are potentially at higher risk from coronavirus had not been furloughed. Those at higher risk include people who are pregnant or have conditions such as diabetes.

Employers are currently allowed to furlough people for any reason arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including to protect employees’ health.

Citizens Advice is calling for the most vulnerable workers to have a right to be furloughed if their work would require them to breach public health advice. This should include people in the shielded group or who share a household with someone in the shielded group. These workers should also be able to retain access to the Job Retention Scheme for as long as public health advice requires them not to work.

‘It’s just a catch-22. I’m damned if I work and I’m damned if I don’t go to work’

Food shop key worker Colleen, 55, is in the shielded group as she has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. She has been denied furlough and instead put on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Her husband works as a carer and so can’t return home.

She said:

“I really wish I never gave my work the [shielding] letter because at least I wouldn’t be struggling to get by. But my husband rightly said working would put me at risk. It’s just a catch-22. I’m damned if I work and I’m damned if I don’t go to work.

“Being on SSP means I take home over £200 a month less than if I was working. I’m struggling to pay my normal bills and buy things like food. I’ve had to sign up to get food parcels as I just don’t have enough money. My friend has dropped me bread and beans to get by.”

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ispwich, said:

“The Job Retention Scheme has helped millions of people, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy for getting them back to work.

“We’ve already seen upsetting cases where vulnerable workers have faced the impossible choice of safeguarding their health or ensuring they have enough to live on, because they have been denied furlough.

“The shielded group, and the people they live with, are likely to have to remain at home for longer than others. These are the people who need the protection of the furlough scheme the most, so it’s essential they’re able to use it.”

Citizens Advice previously set out options for a transitional package of support after the initial measures end. We are pleased that our calls have been met for a gradual end to the Job Retention Scheme, which could also include ending it for different sectors at different times, or allowing employers to partly furlough employees.

An in-depth analysis of a randomised sample of 10% of the 4,152 cases Citizens Advice saw in the week following the launch of the furlough scheme (20 April), showed:

  • Over 70% of those who are shielding or are at higher risk from coronavirus, such as those who are pregnant or have diabetes, were not furloughed.
  • This rose to around 80% when including workers living with someone who is either shielding or at higher risk from coronavirus.
  • This compares to more than 50% of workers overall who have not been furloughed despite being eligible.

Since lockdown, Citizens Advice Ipswich has given advice to more than 1000 clients and made contact with and shared information with a further 1500 people across the town.

Clients who received in-depth advice totalled over a thousand and of these:

  • 448 got benefits advice
  • 111 got debt advice
  • 147 got employment advice
  • 118 got health and community care based advice
  • 75 got housing advice.