Monthly Archives: May 2020

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. ”

Vacancies

Case Checker, Advice Support, and cover Advice Session Supervisor

Salary: £19,000 – £22,000

Dependant on experience

Hours: 37 Hours per week

Closing Date: Monday 8 June2020

Citizens Advice Ipswich is looking for an experienced Case Checker, Advice Support and cover Advice Session Supervisor, to support our expanding team.

To ensure the provision of an effective and efficient generalist advice service to Citizens Advice Ipswich and its clients through case monitoring and advice support to project and volunteer advisers.

Supporting the training, development, and supervision of client facing staff and volunteers.

The successful candidate will have recent and ongoing experience of casework monitoring, checking and generalist advice work.

Alongside the ability to prioritise client needs efficiently and work as part of a team.


Operations and Project Manager


Salary:
£30,000 – £34,000

Dependant on experience

Hours: 37 Hours per week

Closing Date: Monday 8 June 2020

Citizens Advice Ipswich is looking for a, qualified and experienced Operations Manager, to support our expanding team.

The successful candidate will have a proven track record of Staff Management of teams of different levels in a customer focused service, and achievement of high quality performance standards.

Ideally, you will need to have knowledge or experience in working customer led environment and working with volunteers

Alongside the ability to prioritise client needs efficiently and work as part of a team.


For application forms please contact:

Carl Ward: Office Support

Tel: 01473 219770

E-mail: bureau@ipswichcab.org.uk

For informal discussion please contact:

Nelleke Van Helfteren: Deputy Manager

Tel: 01473 219772

Email: deputymanager@ipswichcab.org.uk

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.

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

Urgent fixes needed ahead of potential “second wave” of Universal Credit claims and more

Citizens Advice is calling for immediate changes to Universal Credit ahead of a potential second wave of claims when the government’s protection schemes come to a close.

Data released today by the Department of Work and Pensions shows 1.9 million households have made a claim for Universal Credit in the last two months. This equates to just under one in ten working-age households in Great Britain.

While the rate of claims has tapered in recent weeks, the charity warns its frontline advisors are preparing for a potential spike in enquiries this summer. The job retention scheme is currently due to end on 30th June, which could precipitate further job losses.

The 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, frontline advisers at Citizens Advice say many people they support with Universal Credit can face hardship as a result of the five-week wait until their first payment, or risk getting into debt by taking out an advance payment.

Responding to today’s figures, Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, says:

“The dizzying number of Universal Credit claims since March is a grim reflection of just how many people have seen their income swept away by coronavirus.

“Decisive action from the government means hundreds of thousands of claims have been processed. The next step is to support people during the five-week wait without putting them at risk of debt problems in the future.

“With a potential second wave of claims looming, now is the time for the government to further strengthen the safety net by turning advance payments into grants.”

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich says:

“In Ipswich alone, we have helped with over 420 benefits, 143 debt and 62 housing issues since lockdown. We are expecting many more enquiries as the Government now starts to talk about ending lockdown and the return to the workplace. If redundancies are to come, there will be a further wave of hardship for households who have already had to dig deep. The five-week wait for Universal Credit will add to this.”

“£25 a month doesn’t sound like a lot to pay off, but I know it will be a struggle”

Hairdresser Desislava, 33, has lived and worked in London for more than five years. She lost her job in March and applied for Universal Credit. At the time she was a lodger, and with no savings to fall back on and no earnings, she quickly fell into rent arrears and was evicted by her landlord.

Desislava’s local Citizens Advice supported her with an emergency grant while she waited for her application for Universal Credit to be approved. She has since found a new flat and received an advance to tide her over until the first payment, but the experience has left her shaken.

Desislava says: “Losing my job and my home was horrible. I was shaking and crying because I thought I might end up sleeping rough. I tried my best to look for another job, but nobody has one – it’s a global pandemic.

“I applied for Universal Credit but when I saw the amount I’d receive I realised it wouldn’t be enough to live on and cover my bills. While I wait for my first payment I’ve managed to get an advance of £300 which needs to last me until 4th June, but I’m getting stressed and worried about how I’ll survive on that.

“I then need to repay my advance over the next year. £25 a month doesn’t sound like a lot to pay off, but I know it will be a struggle. Particularly as the amount I’m set to get each month won’t even cover my rent and living costs.”

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.