Tag Archives: benefits

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.”

Confused about your benefits?

Ipswich Citizens Advice are here to offer FREE help and support.

Ipswich Citizens Advice is finding that many people are worried about how the welfare reform changes will affect them and how to claim the benefits they are entitled to. In particular, the constant news coverage around Personal Independence Payments (PIP) is alarming people claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as they are concerned that they will lose their benefits.

DLA claimants who were born after 8 April 1948 and are 16 or over will be invited to claim PIP at some point over the next few years. There is currently no clear guidance from The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) as to when this will happen.

The DWP will write to claimants and invite them to apply for PIP. The process will involve completing a form on how their condition affects their ability to carry out tasks, as well as attending a medical assessment. Citizens Advice strongly recommends that all claimants get free advice and support to complete the form before they send it off.

Ipswich Citizens Advice also supports claimants through the new Universal Credit application process. This new benefit involves important changes to the way people make the claim, receive the payments and the time scales for payments. We are helping people with each of these stages. We are operating out of the Job Centre on Tuesday mornings as well as from our base in Tower Street.

As new Universal Credit figures are released, Ipswich Citizens Advice is sharing its five key things you need to know about Universal Credit:

  1. Universal Credit is a new benefit for people in and out of work, which will eventually merge six benefits into one: Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. Currently you can still apply for ESA separately from Universal Credit.
  2. Universal Credit does not include Council Tax Support – you will still need to apply for this locally.
  3. You apply for Universal Credit via a single application; you’re usually expected to do this online, but you can apply over the phone or in person if you need to.
  4. Universal Credit payments are made on a monthly basis, rather than weekly or fortnightly like previous benefit.
  5. You can ask for an advance payment of Universal Credit to help you get by while you’re waiting for your first payment. This is called a ‘short term advance’.

Helen Bloomfield, Manager of the Money Advice Team in Ipswich Citizens Advice explains, “There is confusion around the changes and we would just like to remind people that we are here to help and support them with benefit claims. Ipswich Citizens Advice has a dedicated Income Maximization Officer whose role it is to support Clients in identifying and claiming all the benefits they are entitled to as well as helping them to complete the forms.”

She adds, “The other important reminder we want to emphasize to people is that we provide this advice and support free of charge. There is no need for people to pay for this information as we can assist them through the claims process as well as providing further advice on other money management issues.”

If you have any concerns about your income or would like to be sure that you are receiving all the benefits that you are entitled to, then do contact us for help. You can also use an online benefits calculator to check. www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits

In the last 12 months local Citizens Advice across England and Wales have helped people with over 150 Universal Credit issues every week.

For more information contact us on 0300 330 1151 or see our website citizensadvice.org.uk

Joint press release from Ipswich Citizens Advice and Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau

Response to Budget announcements ‘Household finances mirror the instability of the wider economy’

Ipswich Citizens Advice and Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau response to the Budget 2016 around Personal Independence Payments and the importance of more investment in front-line money and debt advice services.

We have seen an increase in demand for support with all aspects of access to disability benefits from completing applications to appealing decisions on Personal Independence Payments in Ipswich over the last 12 months. This benefit is designed to maximise people’s ability to play an active role in our society, whether to go out to work or to be able to stay in their own home.

Nicky Willshere, Manager Ipswich Citizens Advice said:

“Disabled people who rely on PIP for help to get dressed or use the toilet will be worried about the impact this Budget has on their ability to live an independent life. We have helped over a 1000 clients with benefits issues since April and almost 800 clients with debt worries.”

Pat Ramsey, Manager of Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau said:

“We dealt with over 1400 enquiries about PIP issues and took on 718 PIP related cases in 2015. Issues related to the complexity of the whole process – getting together the information required to make the initial claim by phone, helping to complete the 36 page form, the large number of people asked to travel to Colchester, Braintree or Norwich for their medical assessment as the Ipswich facility has limited capacity, as well as representing those who feel their decision is wrong – with an 88 percent success rate. Government is planning to make this significant change before they have a full picture of the impact of PIP on the lives of people with disabilities, as most claimants of Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) have yet to be contacted about the compulsory change to PIP.”

“The planned changes to PIP will impact on all aspects of the lives of people with disabilities as they relate to help with their basic needs – getting in and out of bed, using the toilet, washing and dressing as well as preparing, and taking, food and drink. The changes fail to recognise the fact that disabled people research and purchase themselves to try to be as independent as possible. This news comes just a week after the announcement of parliamentary agreement to remove the Work Related Activity component from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The potential effect on the physical, mental and financial well-being of people with disabilities, their carers and families is enormous.”

On the commitment by the Government to invest more in front-line debt and money advice both charities welcomed this news. Both charities have specialist debt and income maximisation teams who can help clients manage their money, deal with their debts and ensure benefits are claimed.

Nicky Willshere, Manager Ipswich Citizens Advice said:

“Household finances mirror the instability of the wider economy. Increasing the personal tax allowance threshold to £11,500 from April 2017 and helping households to save are both very positive steps. We help with debt issues every working day and know there are many people struggling to balance the books. It is crucial that people can access free and impartial advice at every step of the way, not just when things start to go wrong. In these difficult times it is vital that everyone who needs it has access to professional, free, impartial advice. We can help to get effective financial guidance to people early which is key to improving household finances and economic security. The Government’s commitment to invest more in front-line debt and money advice is good news. It’s crucial financial help isn’t just available at crisis points, people should be able to access it at key moments in their lives, like when they move jobs or have a baby.”

Help is at hand from Ipswich Citizens Advice as Universal Credit roll out continues

Ipswich Citizens Advice is encouraging people to turn to them for help if they have questions about Universal Credit and how it affects them, as new government figures reveal 50 people across Ipswich are now on the benefit and with all single, non-home owning people claiming an out of work benefit being moved on to this benefit, the numbers will grow exponentially.

Since its introduction in Ipswich in November 2015, Ipswich Citizens Advice has helped people with 17 issues relating to Universal Credit. This represents almost a third of claimants.

Most enquiries to Ipswich Citizens Advice are about who is eligible for the benefit and requests for help with the application process. ‘We are keen to help people through this new benefits roadmap and particularly to help them understand the major changes that claiming this benefit will mean for them in terms of payment periods and the necessary budgeting and money management that will be needed to avoid debts building up or threatening tenancies,’ says Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager at Ipswich Citizens Advice.

Data released by the Department for Work and Pensions on 17 February shows that nearly 200,000 people are now on Universal Credit.

Universal Credit rolls six working-age benefits into one single monthly payment, supporting people who are on a low income or out of work. It is being introduced in stages across the country, in the first instance to single people who are making new  claims. It will eventually be rolled out to couples, families and people who are sick or disabled.

As new Universal Credit figures are released, Ipswich Citizens Advice is sharing its five key things you need to know about Universal Credit:

  1. Universal Credit is a new benefit for people in and out of work, which will eventually merge six benefits into one: Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. Currently you can still apply for ESA separately from Universal Credit.
  2. Universal Credit does not include Council Tax Support – you will still need to apply for this locally.
  3. You apply for Universal Credit via a single application; you’re usually expected to do this online, but you can apply over the phone or in person if you need to.
  4. Universal Credit payments are made on a monthly basis, rather than weekly or fortnightly like previous benefit.
  5. You can ask for an advance payment of Universal Credit to help you get by while you’re waiting for your first payment. This is called a ‘short term advance’.

Nicky Willshere, Manager at Ipswich Citizens Advice said:

“Many people will need help getting to grips with Universal Credit. Since it was introduced in Ipswich there has been a gradual increase in the number of people turning to us for help with their Universal Credit claim. We are very pleased that we now have an income maximisation worker who is assisting our clients with money management and budgeting to support them through this changing landscape.

“Simplifying welfare and making every hour of work pay are good principles. We know that without the right help and support people across Ipswich may struggle with Universal Credit and how to manage their money on the new benefit. The Jobcentre has an important role to play in making it clear that help is available and that it effectively signposts to where people can get the support they need.”

Benefits is one of the most common type of enquiry people turn to Citizens Advice for help with and Ipswich Citizens Advice helped people with 2796 benefit queries in the last year.

In the last 12 months local Citizens Advice across England and Wales have helped people with over 150 Universal Credit issues every week.

For more information contact us on 0300 330 1151 or see our website citizensadvice.org.uk