Monthly Archives: January 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.”