Category Archives: press release

Student accommodation: what are your rights?

Citizens Advice has issued the following advice to students who may want to leave their accommodation before the end of the rental agreement.

If you are a student in halls of residence who wants to move out and end your contract. What are your rights?

Students who want to end their contract with the university and move out of halls of residence are unlikely to be entitled to a refund.

However, in the Spring when the national lockdown came into force, many universities did waive rent due on their own accommodation.

It might be possible to put forward a “frustration” argument if a student can’t access their accommodation, for example because campus has been shut down, or it is impossible or illegal for the student to travel to the accommodation.

This might also be relevant if the purpose of the accommodation is radically altered. For instance, if it was closely tied to a student attending a course in a particular location, and the provider is now delivering the whole course remotely.

However, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic means that legal arguments have not yet really been tested in the context of student contracts, and so it is not yet clear to what extent these arguments might succeed.

An argument that any contract is ‘frustrated’ (i.e. it is impossible to perform) is certainly less likely to succeed in a case where the accommodation continues to be available, but it is the tenant’s choice not to occupy it.

If you are a student in privately rented accommodation who wants to move out and end your tenancy. What are your rights?

Generally you are liable for any rent due until the end of your fixed term (and any guarantor may be pursued if you don’t pay).

Some tenancy agreements contain a break clause. But this would be unusual in a student tenancy agreement where the letting is intended to be for an academic year, and the landlord is only likely to be able to re-let it for the following academic year.

If you share accommodation with other people, then unless you each have a separate agreement, you are likely to be jointly and separately liable for rent.

This means that the landlord can pursue any of the tenants (or their guarantor) for any rent due under the joint agreement, regardless of which tenant failed to pay their share.

That said, it’s still worth trying to negotiate with your landlord, and they may agree to release you from the tenancy early, or to waive or reduce rent if you are not living in the accommodation.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich says:

“It must be very frustrating for students that the academic year hasn’t started in the way they would have hoped.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much good news for students who decide to change households for the medium to long-term, by returning to their family home for example. It’s likely that in many cases they will be tied into their accommodation agreements and not entitled to any refund.

“It’s always worth getting in touch with your landlord and trying to negotiate. But realistically, if there is no obligation for them to release you from the contract, they may well be unwilling to do so.

“Where the landlord is the university, they may be more sympathetic to a short-term reduction in rent, or ending a contract early, if there is no longer any reason for you to remain in halls.

“However, it is early in the academic year, and it may be difficult to find alternative halls of residence accommodation if a student gives up their place, but later wishes to return.”

Citizens Advice: help for renters worried about eviction

The ban on evictions came to an end this weekend, and new figures from Citizens Advice suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home.

The number of people seeking help from Citizens Advice about issues to do with private rented properties increased by 43% between summer (June to August) 2020 and the same period last year.

The ban on evictions comes to an end this weekend, and new figures from Citizens Advice suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home.

The number of people seeking help from Citizens Advice about issues to do with private rented properties increased by 43% between summer (June to August) 2020 and the same period last year.

Citizens Advice Ipswich helped people with over 380 issues relating to housing and or rent arrears between March and September.

Over the same period, the number of visits to Citizens Advice’s webpage “Dealing with Rent Arrears” more than doubled year on year.

Previous research from the charity has suggested that over a million people have fallen behind on their rent due to Covid-19 across England and Wales.

Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager at Citizens Advice, shares the top five ‘need-to-knows’ for renters* in England worried about staying in their home.

Find out where you are in the process

“If your landlord wants to evict you from your privately rented home there are three stages they’ll have to go through. First, they’ll need to serve you with a notice. When this expires, they need to go to court to get a possession order, and finally apply for a bailiff visit to evict you. It’s really important to know where you are in that process.

“If your landlord has not yet given you a formal notice then you won’t be evicted for many months. If your landlord has already got a possession order and applied for a bailiff date, you might be evicted with 14 days notice.”

If you haven’t received notice yet but are worried about eviction

“If you haven’t yet been given notice, but are worried about the possibility, talk to your landlord. Explain the effect that coronavirus has had on your household and income. Ask if they’ll accept reduced payments, or let you pay back arrears at a rate you can afford.

“Both the government and the landlords’ body the NRLA have asked landlords to be sympathetic to tenants affected by the pandemic.

“You should also make sure you’re receiving all the benefits you might be entitled to.”

If you’ve received a notice

“The rules on the notice your landlord must give have changed — it may now be up to six months depending on when the notice was served.

“The notice must also be in a specific form, so make sure you have a copy and get it checked. Your local Citizens Advice is one place that can help, either in person or via email. If the landlord hasn’t followed other rules during your tenancy this might also mean that the notice is invalid.

“Your landlord can only make a claim to court after the notice ends. You don’t need to leave by this date, but going to court might mean costs are added to your debt if the notice is valid.”

If your notice is expiring and you’re due to go to court

“After 20 September, courts will start hearings again. If your landlord started the claim after 3 August, you’ll be given a court date automatically, otherwise the landlord will need to serve a ‘reactivation notice’ to restart proceedings.

“Return your defence form if you want the court to consider your evidence or allow you extra time in the property. Supply any evidence of information which you gave your landlord about the effect of Covid-19 on your household and of any payments you’ve made.

“The court will look at the information provided by you and the landlord and decide whether to make an order for possession. In some cases you might be able to stay if you can agree to affordable repayments, but the court has no discretion to allow you to stay if you’ve had a valid Section 21 notice – so-called ‘no-fault eviction’.

“If the possession order is granted, it will usually ask you to leave within 2 to 6 weeks.”

If you’ve had a possession order and are facing eviction

“If the court had already decided your case before the eviction ban started (27 March 2020), you may be given 14 days notice after 20th September that bailiffs will carry out an eviction.

“You should seek urgent advice – from Citizens Advice or another housing charity – about whether there’s any way to prevent or delay the eviction, or about finding alternative accommodation.”

*The advice applies to tenants in private rented accommodation and does not include lodgers.

Even if people are able to follow this advice, Citizens Advice fears that many renters will struggle with arrears built up during the pandemic.

The charity, in a coalition that includes the landlord body the NRLA and housing charities, is calling for direct financial support for people behind on their rent because of Covid-19 – either through grants or government-backed interest-free loans. Citizens Advice is also calling for reforms that give judges more discretion to allow tenants to stay in their homes.

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

“Neither renters nor landlords can afford to be saddled with long-term arrears as a result of coronavirus.

“The government must urgently consider direct financial support to help renters clear their debts and stay in their homes, and so make good its promise that no renter will be evicted because of coronavirus and meanwhile we are here to help people with questions or concerns. Call us on Suffolk Adviceline 0300 330 1151”

Citizens Advice Ipswich: Seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

Citizens Advice Ipswich has helped people with 740 issues relating to employment issues since lockdown.

Pay, redundancy, furlough and contract questions are the top issues it has dealt with during the pandemic.

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

“We have helped people with a huge range of issues since lockdown, but we know that as the furlough scheme draws to an end, lots of people may be feeling worried and need advice.

“If you’re at risk of redundancy, it’s important to know you do have rights to help protect you from unfair dismissal and to ensure you’re paid what you’re owed.

“It’s completely understandable that you may find the rules and procedures overwhelming, but you don’t have to face redundancy alone. We are here to help.”

For information and advice, contact Citizens Advice Ipswich Adviceline on 0300 330 1151.

Citizens Advice Ipswich’s seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

1. Check if your redundancy is fair. There are rules to protect you from being discriminated against, and for being picked for redundancy due to an unfair reason.
For example, although you can be made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, you cannot be made redundant because you’re pregnant or on maternity leave. If you are this counts as “automatic unfair dismissal” and discrimination.
Examples of unfair reasons for redundancy can include being picked because you work part-time or you made a complaint about health and safety.
See Check if your redundancy is fair on our public website citizensadvice.org.uk for more information.

2. Check how much redundancy pay you get. You’re entitled to statutory redundancy pay, which is the minimum the law says you’re entitled to, if you’ve been an employee for two years. The amount you will get depends on your age and how long you have worked for the company. You won’t get statutory redundancy pay if you’ve worked for the company for less than two years, are self-employed or are in certain professions such as the armed forces or police.
You may also lose out on statutory redundancy pay if you turn down a suitable alternative job from your employer without a good reason. Your employer may pay extra money on top of the statutory amount you’re entitled to – this is called contractual redundancy pay. Some employees may be entitled to contractual redundancy pay even though they are not entitled to statutory redundancy pay.

3. Furloughed? Make sure you get 100% redundancy pay. If you were furloughed and then made redundant, your redundancy pay should be based on your normal wage.
If you were paid 80% of your wages while on furlough, your redundancy pay should be based on your full wage.

4. Check your notice period. If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a month you’re entitled to a paid statutory notice period. If you’ve worked there for more than a month but less than two years, you have to be given a week’s notice. For two years or more, it’s a week for each full year you have worked, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. You may be entitled to a longer notice period as part of your employment contract. Your notice period only starts when your employer says you’ll be made redundant and gives you a finishing date – not when your employer says you’re at risk of redundancy.
Your employer might decide to give you notice pay instead of your notice period – this is called ‘pay in lieu of notice’.

5. Check your holiday pay. You’ll be paid for any holiday you have left over when you leave. This should be at your normal rate’s pay, even if you’re currently furloughed on 80% of your pay. You can ask to take holiday during your notice period, but it’s up to your employer to decide if you can take it then. Your employer can also tell you to use up any holiday you have left over, but they must give you you notice. The notice must be at least twice as long as the holiday they want you to take.

6. You might be entitled to paid time off to look for work. If you’ve worked for your employer for two years at the end of your notice period, you’re likely to be entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off to apply for jobs or go on training. You can take the time off at any time in normal working hours and your employer can’t ask you to rearrange your work hours to make up the time off. When taking time off to look for work, you’ll be paid at your normal hourly rate, but only for up to 40% of a week’s work – for instance for up to two days if you work a five day week. See preparing for after redundancy for more information.

7. Check if you’ve got legal help via your home insurance. Often people get ‘legal expenses cover’ as part of their home insurance package, but many don’t realise they can get free legal help to challenge their redundancy if they think it’s discriminatory or unfair. It’s worth checking the terms and conditions and speaking to your insurer if unsure.

If you have a trade union at work, you could also contact them. Your union can help you work out if you’ve got a claim, and support you through the process, for example by going to meetings with you or negotiating on your behalf.

You can visit Citizens Advice’s pages on leaving a job for further information and advice.

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. ”

Lockdown Lifeline: Ensuring adequate support across the benefits system during the Covid-19 pandemic

Lockdown Lifeline: Ensuring adequate support across the benefits system during the Covid-19 pandemic [ 240 kb]

Coronavirus has had a sudden and unprecedented impact on people’s jobs and incomes. The Government has acted quickly to improve the processing of benefit claims and increase support in parts of the system – but further urgent measures are needed to fill ongoing gaps and help shore up people’s incomes in the coming weeks.

The scale of the impact coronavirus will likely have on people’s lives means it’s vital we now build upon these changes to ensure the right support is in place for all groups. This includes those facing a temporary income shock, but also groups who risk facing longer-term and more severe economic detriment. The need to act becomes all the more critical as the existing measures introduced to protect people’s finances gradually come to an end.

In Lockdown Lifeline, we outline changes to the benefits system required across three areas:

Widening eligibility and access to the benefits system to ensure everyone who needs support can access it
Immediate measures to help ensure adequate support across the benefits system
Reviewing support for groups who risk facing a disproportionate impact due to coronavirus

Coronavirus childcare: Is there a right to time off?

With more businesses looking to reopen over the coming weeks, Citizens Advice has set out what parents and guardians can do if they’re struggling to juggle childcare and work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The charity has launched a new webpage – Coronavirus – if you need to be off work to care for someone. Its frontline advisers have also directly helped many parents who are struggling with childcare due to the closure of schools and nurseries while family and friends are unable to help.

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

“The thought of returning to work after being furloughed, while juggling childcare, can be a daunting prospect. This is particularly the case for parents who would usually rely on family and friends for support, but can’t at the moment due to social distancing guidance.

“Parents and guardians who are struggling have a number of options. Anyone who is unsure of what to do can visit the Citizens Advice website for more information, and can speak to an adviser online or on the phone for more help.”

There are a number of potential options when it comes to childcare:

Ask to be furloughed. The government has said that if you’re unable to work due to childcare responsibilities, your employer can furlough you using the Job Retention Scheme. If you’re furloughed, you’ll be paid 80% of your normal pay up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

Ask your employer about flexible working. If your employer says you have to work, it may be possible for you to work more flexibly, at times that suit you, on different tasks or for fewer hours. Some employers may suggest you take annual leave.

Ask for unpaid leave until you can work again. If you’re unable to be furloughed or work flexibly, you could ask for unpaid leave with no fixed end date. This is called ‘indefinite unpaid leave’ and you should ask for it in writing so that you have a record.

If your employer says no to the options above, the law says they must consider letting you have some unpaid leave, but only for a limited period of time.

This could be parental leave. If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a year, you can have unpaid parental leave for each of your children. The law says you can take four weeks’ leave per child each year, but you can only take 18 weeks in total for the whole period until they reach 18. You also have to tell your employer 21 days before you want to be off work. It’s a good idea to check with your employer as they might be more generous than this. For example, you might be allowed more than four weeks’ leave in a year, or you might be able to give less than 21 days’ notice.

Alternatively, you can ask for time off for a dependent. You can have some unpaid time off to deal with unexpected problems or emergencies with your child. The time off has to be ‘reasonable’ and you can only have enough time to deal with the urgent problem.

For example, if you’re asked to return to work from furlough, you could ask for dependent leave to sort out childcare. You need to tell your employer as soon as possible that you’ll need to be off. You also need to say why you need the time off and when you expect to be back.

If you’re paid less than normal as a result of a flexible working arrangement or the furlough scheme you should check if you can get benefits to help.

‘One in five to need support from benefits system amid employment crisis’ as Citizens Advice Ipswich helps over 500 cases with benefits and employment since lockdown

New research from Citizens Advice reveals one fifth (20%) of UK adults say they have applied or expect to apply for benefits as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This rises to 68% of people on zero-hours contracts.

In Ipswich, Citizens Advice have supported clients with over 500 queries relating to benefits and employment issues. These issues range from how do I make a claim for benefit, how do the government schemes relate to me, is my employer acting reasonably?

The findings come as government data today shows over 1.5 million households made a Universal Credit claim between 1st March and 12th April. First payments for those who applied for the benefit immediately following the lockdown are due tomorrow.

Figures from Citizens Advice show around six million people in the UK (18% of the total workforce) have already seen their hours cut, been laid off or made redundant.

The charity, which has seen nearly 2.5 million views of its online advice on employment and benefits issues since the lockdown began, says gaps in the jobs protections schemes could be increasing the number forced to apply for the benefit. This includes people who are recently self-employed or at higher risk of coronavirus, such as those who are pregnant or have diabetes.

The swift redeployment of staff by the Department for Work and Pensions has helped respond to an unprecedented surge in demand on the benefits system and ensured people can access financial support.

However, insights from frontline advisers at Citizens Advice show the claims process remains problematic for some groups, such as those who don’t have ID or a bank account or those without an internet connection. Accessibility issues have been exacerbated by the necessary temporary closure of libraries and job centres.

Meanwhile 15% of people anticipate having to borrow money from friends or family to cope with the five-week wait before payment if they do have to apply for Universal Credit.

Citizens Advice is recommending the government make immediate changes to Universal Credit so that those who have lost income as a result of coronavirus can access adequate support quickly without getting into debt.

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

“Behind today’s figures are families whose world has been turned upside down by coronavirus.

“The Government has worked hard to shore up protections for workers and process soaring claims for Universal Credit. But we know that some people are still slipping through the safety net, often with desperate consequences.

“Plugging the remaining gaps in the employment support schemes could protect more jobs. And for those needing support from the benefits system, turning advance payments into a grant would really ease the burden.”

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

“Since the lockdown, Citizens Advice Ipswich alone has dealt with over 500 cases where clients are seeking advice on benefits and how to claim them as well as worries about their work, and this is without our usual face to face service which helps the most vulnerable people in our community, many of whom currently cannot access our service due to lack of digital connectivity.

“Our advisers are receiving calls every day from people whose livelihood has simply disappeared due to this pandemic. Some lost their jobs or were in unstable work when the crisis hit, and others have no income until the self-employed support scheme kicks in.”

“Staff are working flat out to help them with their concerns. Alongside issues with making an online application for Universal Credit, we’re seeing a lot of people struggling simply because they’ve never had to access the benefits system. There’s a huge demand for advice. We are bracing ourselves as we know that beyond lockdown we will be really stretched to help households get back on an even keel: financially, sorting housing issues, accessing benefits and getting back to work. It is not going to be simple or quick. This pandemic will have lasting consequences for the most vulnerable and those households who never thought they were in that category.”

“We urge people not to worry alone – we are here to help and can be contacted by phone on 0300 330 1151 or by email via this website.”

Press Release ~ To mark National Student Volunteering Week, Citizens Advice Ipswich thanks University of Suffolk law student volunteers for their valuable contribution to our advice team

Citizens Advice Ipswich is celebrating National Student Volunteering week (10-15 February) by thanking the University of Suffolk Law Students who use their time to help people face problems that may seem complicated or intimidating as part of our Advice Team at Tower Street.

As part of a partnership, a number of University of Suffolk Law Students spend a day a week with Citizens Advice in Ipswich training into advice roles. This gives them the chance to put their study into practice and gain experience of how the law affects people in their everyday lives.

Training Officer and Students

The scheme is a WIN WIN partnership – the students gain valuable work experience and Citizens Advice get to help more clients by expanding our volunteer workforce. Over 70 clients have been helped to date by the student volunteers since October.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer said:

“Not only do the students gain valuable experience which stands them in good stead for their careers, but our volunteers here love having them around with the passion and commitment they show and the perspective they bring to the team. Long live the partnership with University of Suffolk!”

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Reilly Willis, Lecturer in Law at University of Suffolk added:

‘We are pleased to be able to offer our students this module, called Clinical Legal Practice, as part of the Law Degree at University of Suffolk. It gives them valuable client facing experience and enhances their communication skills which will be great when applying for jobs or further studies. In this module the students have been putting the law into practice in a wide range of scenarios and developing their client contact skills. They will compile a portfolio of legal issues and consider the law as it impacts on peoples’ everyday lives as part of their academic studies.’

Don’t just listen to us, though, this is how former volunteer advisers say volunteering with us at Citizens Advice Ipswich helped them get on with their careers in law and finance …

Although I have not pursued a career within the legal sector after studying law, I have very recently been promoted to a regulated role within the finance sector (Mortgage and Protection Manager). The time I spent volunteering at the CAB helped me immensely, as it was the first time I was in the live environment helping and advising customers with their needs and budgeting. Without CAB I’m not too sure I would have started a career in the banking sector.

Lworking for a High Street Bank

Volunteering at Citizens Advice was one of the best choices I have made, as I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who are passionate about helping the people who are in need of it. I have gained invaluable interpersonal skills when advising clients. I would urge anyone who wishes to pursue a career within the legal profession to volunteer.

Tcurrently working as a claims assessor for a firm of solicitors

I found that my experience at Citizens Advice was incredibly useful at developing legal skills that are not acquired as part of a typical law degree, particularly client-focussed skills such as interviewing clients to gather relevant information about their enquiries; identifying clients’ objectives; and preparing accurate attendance notes of meetings. Citizens Advice was also a referee for my application to join a law firm as a trainee solicitor; I still work at the firm, now as a qualified solicitor in its dispute resolution department.

Mworking as a solicitor in Ipswich

Citizens Advice gave me the confidence to interview and advise clients in a supportive and professional environment.

Scurrently volunteering with Suffolk Law Centre and continuing training in law as well as advising with us here at Citizens Advice Ipswich

student volunteering week