Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire quickly mobilised its staff and volunteers to give one-to-one advice over the phone and via online chat after the lockdown began on 23 March.
The top four issues the charity has helped local people with are Benefits including Universal Credit (788 issues/376 people), Debt (205 issues/86 people), Employment (194 issues/111 people) and Housing (115 issues/75 people). We have also seen an increase in the number of people needing charitable support such as food banks or financial assistance for an essential need (145 issues/79 people).
Across the South East region there has also been a surge in demand for help from the Citizens Advice website with 114,700 people visiting it during the busiest week.
Robin Jenkins, Adviceline volunteer at Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire, said:
“I was asked through the local JobCentre to contact one of their clients who they had helped to register for Universal Credit and was told that the client was unwell.
On calling the client, I learnt she was a Care Assistant in a local Care Home and that she was self-isolating as she had the symptoms of Covid-19. She said she had not been given any PPE to wear at the Care Home and planned to change employers.
Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire were able to get her electricity and water suppliers to put her accounts on hold, negotiate a moratorium on the payment of her rent and organise a food parcel for her. At the end of her self-isolation period, she was thankfully feeling much better and had arranged to have a test for the Covid-19 virus.
Our client was from an EU country and her English was not completely fluent. However, we were able to support her and helped her through the dark time of her loneliness. She is hoping to start a new job at another Care Home in about two weeks’ time.
It was a great privilege to be able to assist our client through the very worrying time whilst she was in self-isolation and not having anyone who could support her.”
Ruth Stravis, Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire Adviceline volunteer, said:
“We’re getting lots of calls about employment issues, including use and non-use of the Government’s Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme and delays in people getting paid. People are calling for advice on redundancies and lay-offs, and we’re getting calls from self-employed people who have no income at the moment.
We’ve seen an increase in the proportion of younger people calling us – the percentage of clients in their twenties has increased by 50% compared with before the pandemic. People are asking us about accessing benefits including Universal Credit, and with problems managing financially, with many requests for referrals to food banks.
As an Adviceline volunteer for Citizens Advice, I’m glad I can be doing something directly useful at this incredibly difficult time, given that so many people are struggling to navigate the changing situation and cope with the implications of the lockdown. I think the situation is going to exacerbate a lot of inequality and expose a lot of need, so I’m glad that Citizens Advice is here online and on the telephone to help people.”
Teresa Archer, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire, said:
“We are all extremely proud of and grateful to our volunteers and staff who quickly rallied round to ensure no-one needs to face the financial challenges of Covid-19 alone.
“Over the past six weeks our teams have helped as many people as possible with problems such as applying for benefits for the first time, navigating the government’s job support schemes, and worries over how to manage the bills.
“Citizens Advice was founded the day after World War Two was declared to support people at a time of national need. We are still here 80 years later to provide free, impartial, independent and confidential advice to anyone who needs it.
“So if you’re in need don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or drop us a message, our advisers are ready and waiting to help.”
To find advice, please start by visiting citizensadvice.org.uk. The website is constantly updated with the latest advice on what the coronavirus could mean for people. If an answer cannot be found, please phone the local Citizens Advice office.. To find the phone number for your local Citizens Advice Adviceline, visit http://www.caox.org.uk