19 Oct CITIZENS ADVICE CORNWALL PREPARES TO MEET SOARING DEMAND AS COST OF LIVING BITES
More people are turning to Citizens Advice Cornwall for help with benefits, debt, housing, employment, foodbank vouchers and relationship breakdown issues according to new statistics published today (18 October).
The charity’s new Annual Report shows 9,000 people approached the organisation for help in the county in 2021/22, an increase of 400 on the previous year.
Income gained for people who came to us increased from a total of £5.3m to £8.2m while the amount of debt written-off was £1.1 million.
The new figures, which cover the year to April 2022, come in the middle of the most turbulent years in living memory for people’s finances and do not include the full extent of the energy price rise and cost of living crisis.
Citizens Advice Cornwall Chief Executive, Gill Pipkin, said:
“These latest statistics show our service is needed more than ever in Cornwall, and the latest indications are that demand is likely to reach an all-time high as energy, rent, mortgages and food prices go up. We expect an even bigger demand for free, independent help and advice in all parts of the county and the Isles of Scilly.
“It’s really important that people know they have somewhere to turn to before their problems become a crisis and there are a team of dedicated and fully trained advisers waiting to help out.
“We would like to thank all our funders, particularly Cornwall Council, for continuing to support us, but as a charity, we still need help from grants and public donations and new volunteers to keep the service running to meet the increasing demand.”
The majority of our clients came to us for help with benefits and tax credits (24%), Universal Credit claims (22%), debt (14%), financial services (9%), housing (8%) and employment (4%).
A total of 93% of people said they would recommend the Citizens Advice Cornwall service to others and 91% said it had helped them find a way forward. 84% of people say they would not have been able to sort out their problem with the charity’s help.
Citizens Advice chair, Fran Keene, said:
“Our service is providing a vital lifeline for many people of all ages and backgrounds, but to meet the significant challenges ahead, we will need the continued help and support of the community – as volunteers, donors and fundraisers – so we can continue to provide the highly valued service so many people in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly rely on.”
For information on volunteering or making a donation to Citizens Advice Cornwall please visit the website at citizensadvicecornwall.org.uk
FROM THE FRONTLINE: STORIES FROM PEOPLE WHO COME TO CITIZENS ADVICE CORNWALL
Georgie rented her flat from a housing association. She has autism and sometimes interacting with others can be very stressful.
Her flat was a sanctuary from the world and a place she felt safe. When people spoke to Georgie, she didn’t always react calmly and there had been some complaints.
The housing association sent Georgie a letter alleging anti-social behaviour and seeking to evict her. Georgie was devastated. The housing association had not spoken to Georgie or considered her autism – or that some of the complaints were vindictive, from people who considered Georgie ‘different’.
Georgie came to us and we drafted a defence and represented her in court. We pointed out that the housing association had not followed their own rules and properly investigated the allegations. They had not taken Georgie’s disability into account in their decisions and owed Georgie a duty of care.
We resisted the eviction and helped Georgie form a better relationship with her housing association. In future, she feels she can talk to them if she is having problems.
(Name changed to protect identity).
Julie was referred to our Powerhouse energy project. She had been with her supplier for six months and not received a bill. When she got her first bills, she already owed £673 for electric and gas.
Julie is a single mum on a very small income. She had saved £200 for her energy but knew it wouldn’t be enough to cover what she owed. She has ADHD and anxiety and finds being in debt a mental health trigger. She kept looking at her household budget but was unable to find enough to pay the debt.
We helped Julie get £90 compensation for poor service from the company, talked to her about ways to reduce her electricity use and showed her how to read her gas meter.
We helped her negotiate monthly payments for gas and electricity. The supplier indicated she should pay £122 per month. She couldn’t afford this but we found since our involvement, her electricity use had reduced by a third. We asked the supplier for a lower monthly payment of £100. Julie has been successfully making these payments since.
We also helped Julie apply for the Warm Home Discount and sign-up for the Priority Services Register for vulnerable people. We helped her apply for a grant to clear her debt from the British Gas Energy Trust and she was awarded £434. In addition, we helped her apply for Council Tax Exceptional Relief and she received £450 in Household Support Grant.
Apart from the savings achieved through advice, we have helped to add to Julie’s household budget £1,147.
She has put both grants towards her energy bills, and now has a credit of £291 on her gas account and £250 on her electricity account. Her position is much improved and she feels a lot more confident in managing her energy bills in future.
STORIES FROM THE FRONTLINE – CARLY
Carly was receiving help for mental health issues when she came to Citizens Advice for assistance with budgeting and debts for electric and rent.
Her severe anxiety meant she was unable to make calls or send emails to creditors. She also struggled to complete forms and needed help with a benefits tribunal and housing issues.
Our specialist adviser spoke to the electricity supplier to established Carly’s usage, debt and payments and helped her secure a grant of £300 to clear her debt. The adviser also spoke to her housing association and discovered, to Carly’s relief, that the rental debt was only £5.
Carly’s adviser said: “We encouraged her independence by making calls herself. A really positive outcome is at end of advice when Carly was able to call the council about her council tax herself to provide her bank details. She has previously been unable to make any creditor calls so this was a real step forwards.”
Citizens Advice Cornwall also helped Carly with her disabled benefits appeal, which included writing supportive letters, contacting her GP and sending photos of her disabilities because she felt she couldn’t attend in person. Although the tribunal agreed to a paper hearing, an administrative error led to them contacting Carly and asking why she wasn’t there. The adviser attended court to explain the situation and Carly was awarded the maximum rate of Personal Independence Payment for mobility and daily living, which, when backdated, came to more than £6,800.
David’s landlord sent a letter threatening court action for a substantial amount of rent arrears.
David had many debts and he was paying as much as he could to the credit card companies that sent letters every week and called his mobile daily. He hadn’t even realised he was behind on rent.
David was so low, he was considering taking his own life. Debt had spiralled after he lost his job in the pandemic and his marriage broke down.
We worked closely with a local mental health charity who helped David with counselling. Our adviser helped David prioritise his finances and set up a payment of ongoing rent and arrears that his landlord accepted, so he could keep his home.
We also negotiated with the landlord to do necessary repairs on the house, and reduce the arrears against the cost of these. We wrote to David’s other creditors setting up payment arrangements he could afford. Managing David’s debts and prioritising payments helped him feel in control and improved his mental health. With a stable home and back in control of his finances, David has felt well enough to find another job.
Grace came to our Powerhouse team for help contacting her supplier.
She was so shy and so anxious that she could not bring herself to speak on the phone with anybody she didn’t know. She had been homeless in the past, sleeping rough for a brief period of time and had lived in supported accommodation before being housed in a one-bedroom flat by Cornwall Council.
We started writing to her and 63 emails, two phone calls, and one Teams session later, she now:
- has a direct debit set up with her supplier, which she organised herself via the chat option on the supplier’s website,
- is on the Water Care Tariff with South West Water, due to our intervention, and
- has been awarded a £500 grant towards the carpeting of her flat.
Her carpeted bedroom and living room will now be much cosier and easier to heat.
Grace also completed our Energy Competence Course, so is now aware how to save electricity and gas, how to calculate her bill and what help is available to her with paying her fuel bills.