Tag Archives: Citizens Advice

18 people helped every minute: What Citizens Advice data shows about the year everything changed

Citizens Advice is warning that debt is the looming problem of the pandemic. As the one-year marker since lockdown began approaches, the charity has charted a worrying increase in the need for advice, food bank referrals and charitable grants.

The charity’s 12 months of pandemic data maps the waves of demand for different types of advice during its busiest ever year (1). In this time, there have been more than 60 million views of its self-help advice pages, and its frontline advisers have given one-to-one advice to two million people – 18 people every minute.

Fuel debts and CCJs. The number of people wanting debt advice dropped sharply during the first lockdown. Emergency protections meant they could postpone seeking help while they tackled more immediate day-to-day issues. Since June, the numbers have been steadily increasing. There have been steeper rises in the need for charitable support, help with fuel debts and searches around County Court Judgements (see graphs one to three). Without further interventions, Citizens Advice expects debt issues to increase.

Wills. In a stark reminder of the human cost of this pandemic, the charity also saw a big rise in views of its web pages on wills and deaths. An acute increase during the first wave of the pandemic was followed by an even greater increase during the winter lockdown, mirroring the higher death toll of the second wave.

Redundancy. In terms of redundancy, Citizens Advice saw a staggering increase in the need for help throughout the first lockdown, but this nosedived as the initial extension to the furlough scheme extension was mooted (see graph four).

People’s questions about the furlough scheme also changed. From March to May 2020, they were largely around working and being made redundant while on furlough, but as people became used to the scheme the questions changed to getting a second job. As the third lockdown and homeschooling took hold, the focus was instead on if people could ask to be furloughed (see graph five).

Universal Credit. Demand for the charity’s Help to Claim Universal Credit service mirrored the initial surge in applications for the benefit, which flattened from May onwards. During the past 12 months, Citizens Advice has seen a change in the people seeking support with applications, with women and under 35s making up a bigger proportion, but a fall in the proportion of disabled people.

The charity, which was formed in response to the outbreak of World War Two, was already offering remote advice before the pandemic, and so was well-placed to adapt as the crisis took hold. In 2020 it helped 77% more people by phone, 83% more by webchat, and 41% more by email compared to the previous year.

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

“Our data shines a light on how people’s worries and fears have changed throughout this pandemic.

“It has given us early warnings of the problems ahead, and that alarm is now signalling the return of debt problems as people deal with the fallout of job losses, lower wages and less stability.

“Behind the numbers are the individuals who have been buffeted by a wave of problems triggered by the pandemic. Our frontline advisers will continue to be there to support them, but as a nation we must ensure no-one is left behind on the road to recovery.”

The stories behind the data: ‘I can’t always afford food – I’m worried about how I’ll survive’

Lisa, 43, has worked in the travel industry for most of her life, but in March she was told to shield and furloughed. In October, she was made redundant when her team was cut from nearly 50 people to five.

She said: “For the first time in my life I had to apply for benefits. My Universal Credit and Jobseekers’ Allowance doesn’t cover all my bills. There’s always something that
I’m not able to pay in full. I’m now in council tax arrears and I’m behind on a loan.

“I can’t always afford food and I’m really worried about how I am going to survive.

“Citizens Advice has helped me access energy and food vouchers and are helping me with my debts.

“I apply for jobs everyday but for every job there’s about 100 people applying. It’s such a difficult time and I just hope that I can get a job and get my life back on track.

‘Our daughter pays our energy bill but we’re still left with nothing once we pay the others’

In 2019, Kish left her job to become her mum’s full-time carer. Her husband’s earnings as a self-employed security worker covered their outgoings, but in March 2020 his work dried up.

She said: “At the end of April we realised that my husband wouldn’t be getting any work, so out of sheer desperation we applied for Universal Credit.

“When we received our first payment we realised that we wouldn’t have enough money to pay all of our bills and buy food.

“We had to turn to one of our children who is fortunate enough to be working and ask for help. Our daughter started paying our energy bill but we are still left with nothing once we pay everything. We’ve cut back on everything, we don’t buy treats, haven’t bought new clothes, nothing!

“As a result of having such a drop in our income we are now in rent arrears of just under £800. Thankfully our housing officer is understanding and has set up a repayment plan of £10 per month.”

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Petition against funding cuts to Citizens Advice in Suffolk

Suffolk County Council has told Citizens Advice charities operating across the county that it is proposing to halve and then withdraw its funding support. The full council will vote in February on the proposal. Suffolk County Council funding was worth £375,000 to Citizens Advice across Suffolk during 2017/18.

Citizens Advice is already a cost-effective service. Last year, the work done in Suffolk by our 425 volunteers was officially valued at more than £2.4 million. In 2017/18 they helped people write off £7.8 million in debt. National research shows that for every £1 invested in Citizens Advice in Suffolk we generated at least £3.52 in savings to government and public services and £20.84 in wider economic and social benefits.

What would this mean?

This would lead to a significantly reduced service for people in Suffolk. The number of staff and volunteers available to give advice would have to be drastically reduced. The volunteer advisers provide quality assured advice on a wide range of issues such as debt, disability benefits, housing, employment and relationships.

In a joint statement, the Chief Officers of Citizens Advice in Suffolk said:

“We are local charities and we rely on local support. The funding we receive from Suffolk County Council enables us to make a real difference in the lives of people across the county and we are very grateful for that. Our top priority is always the people who need us. The number of people we see continues to grow and our dedicated team of staff and volunteers is committed to serving them. If agreed, these cuts would be a significant reduction in our budgets and will lead to difficult choices. We will work closely with our partners, staff and volunteers to make the best decisions we can in the circumstances.”

What can you do?

We are asking everyone in Suffolk to sign and share a petition against the cuts. Go to https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/citizensadviceinsuffolk to sign the petition.

Please share the petition with friends and family, by email or social media.

As well as signing and sharing the petition you can help by:

Citizens Advice brings cheer to Suffolk this Christmas

Citizens Advice charities have been supporting people in Suffolk this Christmas by helping to solve problems that are a burden to households. The charities helped 22,000 people last year, and say that Christmas can be a difficult time of year for vulnerable people.

This month, Citizens Advice helped a father who approached his local office when his primary school age daughter was placed into his care by social services.

The child’s mother was experiencing a mental health crisis and the child was removed from her care after involvement from the police.

The child was taken to her father immediately, without any of her belongings and with only the clothes she was wearing.

The local Citizens Advice arranged a food parcel for the family and applied for a grant from the local Lions Club so that the father could buy her clothes.

An Adviser arranged for the child to receive a Christmas present through a scheme run by the local Salvation Army and passed her thank you card to the Lions Club.

The local Citizens Advice is helping the father to claim the child benefit and associated benefits that he is entitled to so that he can provide care for his daughter.

Citizens Advice are also helping vulnerable people in Suffolk to heat their homes this winter, in partnership with Suffolk Community Foundation.

Citizens Advice Ipswich administers applications for the Surviving Winter Grant for the whole of Suffolk.

So far, over £20,000 donated by the generous people of Suffolk has been shared in the form of over 170 grants to older people across the County and that is only the beginning of the project. Surviving Winter partners are aiming to reach a target of £150,000 in donations to be awarded to around 800 households to help keep them warm over the winter.

As well as providing this much-needed extra funding, Citizens Advice across the county gives additional help with energy costs, benefits applications and money advice. This helps to keep people well in their homes.

In this year alone, Citizens Advice in Suffolk has dealt with £9m of debt, helping to stabilise the financial situation for families in 2018.

Helping to manage debt leads to people getting some control back in their lives, and allows them to budget for the everyday essentials as well as occasional extras like Christmas presents.

Nicky Willshere of Citizens Advice Ipswich said,

“People turn to us when their problems are difficult to solve, and this is even more important at Christmas, which can be a difficult time for many.”

“Volunteers are the backbone of our service. Last year, 425 volunteers gave their time at their local Citizens Advice in Suffolk to help people in need. Thanks to them, we helped 22,000 people.”

“We are grateful to all of those who enable us to help those in need, including volunteers, funders and charity partners.”

“We receive numerous thank you cards and small gifts from grateful clients at this time of year. Though that is not why we do it, it is great that our volunteers and staff are recognised for their hard work throughout the year.”

“One client put it better than I can – thank you to everyone for helping my family get through this difficult time – I would not have known where to go if you weren’t here. Until now I didn’t know how hard it could be.”