Tag Archives: help

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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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

Press Release ~ Ipswich Citizens Advice helped clients manage over £1.5 million debts in the first 6 months of this year

Over a £million of this was credit debt. Our research shows that this figure is so high because it is already hard to make ends meet.

Now in the run up to the Autumn Statement, it looks like households will be needing to further tighten their belts with proposed cuts to tax credits. The results of a Citizens Advice survey suggests that those not already in debt will be driven to borrowing or will not be able to find the necessary funds to pay essential bills.

£100 drop in monthly income can drive households into debt

One in three people would have to stop paying essential bills, borrow from family or would fall into debt to deal with a £100 drop in their monthly income, reveal new figures from Citizens Advice.

The ‘financial security’ study shows that a monthly loss of £100 is enough to undermine the stability of household finances. It also highlights that people would struggle to increase their income due to caring commitments, or their employer not being able to offer more hours or more pay. Those who believe they can increase their income say it could take up to a year to make this happen.

Four out of five (82 per cent) people with an income of between £15,999 and £29,999 said it would be difficult or very difficult to cope with this reduction, compared to almost half of those on an annual income of over £30,000 (47 per cent).

The findings come ahead of the Autumn Statement and Spending Review and as the Government considers changes to tax credits which, as the plans stand, would leave many affected households worse off by £100 a month.

Each year Citizens Advice helps with 1.5 million debt problems. In the last 18 months there has been a notable shift in the types of debt problems people are seeking the charity’s help with as more and more people struggle to pay bills and rent.

Of the third of people who said they would borrow money or fall into debt as a result of the loss of income:

  • Half would borrow money from family or friends
  • 45 per cent would skip or delay payments on essential bills
  • 41 per cent would use an overdraft
  • 31 per cent would use a credit or store card.

Reducing spending was a popular approach among the 500 respondents to the online survey with 77 per cent saying that they would make cut backs to absorb the change in their finances.

However, working extra hours or gaining a pay rise was less of an option for people, with just 1 in 4 (28 per cent) believing they would be able to do this.

Of those who said they couldn’t increase their income, one in four said caring commitments, for example childcare responsibilities or looking after a relative, meant they wouldn’t be able to increase their working hours.

While a quarter thought their employer couldn’t offer them higher pay or more hours.

Two in five people (43 per cent) felt that even if they were able to increase their income, it would take them months, with one quarter thinking they’d need more than a year.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Ipswich Citizens Advice said:

“Being £100 a month worse off can significantly affect people’s financial security.

“For too many people the only option to cope with a drop in income is to borrow money or go into debt on their essential bills. Childcare responsibilities can mean people are unable to take on any more work to fill the gaps, and where people are able to increase their income it can take up to a year to do so.

“People on tax credits are facing the prospect of a £100 drop in income. Ministers need to look carefully at their plans to change tax credits to ensure people aren’t driven into debt, have plenty of time to plan their finances and are given help to achieve a financially secure position.”

Data from Citizens Advice shows products like credit cards previously caused the most debt issues but it is now household bills which are at the heart of people’s financial troubles. Our advisers also report that clients tell them they are using credit cards and loans to help meet ongoing household costs. This is not sustainable in the long term.

There were 197,000 council tax debt problems reported to Citizens Advice between July 2014 and June 2015, making it the most common debt problem. There has also been an increase in rent arrears to private landlords.

The charity’s ‘Consumer Challenges’ published earlier this year found those on higher incomes tend to have a greater amount of debt. However it also reported that it is much more difficult for people on lower incomes to get themselves out of debt – meaning they often end up deeper in the red.

Notes to editors

1. More information, including figures regarding debt levels experienced by Ipswich Citizens Advice clients are available from Nelleke van Helfteren – deputymanager[at]ipswichcab.org.uk tel 01473 219772, mobile 07765 534443.

2. Between the 29 October and the 4 November 505 people answered an online survey about dealing with changes in income. The respondents came from across the income distribution and represented all types of households.

3. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.

4. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

5. To find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales or to get advice online, visit citizensadvice.org.uk.

6. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

7. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full 2013/2014 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends.

Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.