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News from the front line – Corona Virus and Financial Insecurity

April 7, 2020

Two weeks ago Citizens Advice Sheffield shifted to only provide advice and support by phone and website to the people of Sheffield during this pandemic. All of this data comes from a report compiled by Citizens Advice Sheffield Chief Executive Clare Lodder.

Employment – Employment is now our 4th highest enquiry area (after benefits, universal credit and Debt) with enquiries for final quarter of the year  running at 61% above the same period in the previous year.

There has been a steep rise in people seeking help with issues to do with their employment including problems with their employer in relation to what money they have received or how the job retention scheme is applying to them or short time working.  (This has included a few employers who are confused about the scheme and unsure where to get information on this).

Sick Pay – We have also seen a spike in enquiries from the self-employed and enquiries about Statutory Sick Pay (both whether it should be paid and complaints about it not being paid).

Benefits – Problems with benefits including claiming universal credit – our Help to Claim team have a clear focus here and are able to give targeted help – but we are also helping with clients worrying about personal independence payments, particularly renewals and concerns over benefit payments.

Debts – Concern over debts, including council tax and fuel debts and an upsurge in enquiries around debt deductions from benefits and people with overpayments of Universal Credit

Destitution – People in need of help because they have no money to pay for food and/or fuel, usually because of benefit delays and the 5 week wait.

Local Collaboration

Citizens Advice Sheffield is working closely with all of the emerging support across the city including Sheffield City Council’s COVID response phone line and the local support and community hubs. It does feel that the city is now moving to a phase where there is much greater integration between voluntary sector and local government provision.

Our biggest concern

The biggest concern we have is to do with the inequalities aspect of this pandemic. Evidence from New York shows how unequal the impact of corona virus is.

People who were already on the the minimum wage – who are now finding that they have to manage on even less because they no longer have a job; people who are continuing to work because they need the income – in many cases they are providing ‘essential services’ such as public transport (this data on coronavirus deaths for public transport workers is appalling), supermarket retail, residential care, refuse collection etc.

Broadly the advice trends we are seeing are in line with the emerging picture from Citizens Advice nationally. Across the whole service in England and Wales, we are told

  • The number of cases referencing coronavirus have doubled in local Citizens Advice service, and continue to increase in the consumer service
  • Universal Credit remains the top issue for clients accessing local Citizens Advice, closely followed by employment advice
  • The national website has just seen its busiest week ever with 2.4 million page views, surpassing the previous weekly high of 2.2 million page views.

Citizens Advice nationally  has focused on rapidly updating its information on the public site.

What needs to change

Whilst Citizens Advice Sheffield have welcomed the Government’s announcements in relation to the help being provided, from the evidence from people we are helping, we believe there is more that should be done and in particular:

  • Removing the 5 week wait for universal credit to be in payment
  • Suspending all other benefit renewal action
  • Extending the limitation date from three months to six months for enforcement action against employers who have failed to pay final pay
  • Ensuring that there is a local safety net (for example by extending the scope of the local assistance scheme) to give money to people who are destitute because of benefit delays or other problems with benefits.

We also hope that some of the changes to the benefits system which have been introduced as a response to this current emergency are embedded for the future.

What do you think?

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