Citizens Advice Cornwall is helping to tackle the cost of living crisis

According to new statistics released today (18 October), more and more people are turning to Citizens Advice Cornwall for help with benefits, debt, housing, employment, bank bonds food and relationship breakdown issues.

The charity’s new annual report shows that 9,000 people approached the organization for help in the county in 2021/22, an increase of 400 on the previous year.

Income earned for people who came to us fell from a total of £5.3m to £8.2m, while the amount of debt canceled was £1.1m sterling.

The new figures, which cover the year to April 2022, come amidst the most turbulent years in living memory for people’s finances and do not include the full extent of oil price hikes. energy and the cost of living crisis.

Citizens Advice Cornwall chief executive Gill Pipkin said: ‘These latest statistics show that our service is needed more than ever in Cornwall, and the latest indications are that demand is likely to be at an all time high as the energy, rent, mortgages and food prices go up. We expect even greater demand for free, independent help and advice across all parts of the county and the Isles of Scilly.

“It’s really important that people know they have somewhere to turn before their problems become a crisis and that there is a team of dedicated and fully trained counselors waiting to help them.

“We would like to thank all of our funders, especially Cornwall Council, for continuing to support us, but as a charity we always need the help of public grants and donations and new volunteers to keep the service running and meet growing demand.”

The majority of our clients have come to us for help with benefits and tax credits (24%), universal credit applications (22%), debt (14%), financial (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 helped them find a way forward. 84% of people declare that they could not have solved their problem with the help of the association.

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President of Citizens Advice, Fran Keene, said: “Our service provides a vital lifeline to many people of all ages and from all walks of life, but to meet the significant challenges ahead we will need the help and continued support from the community – as volunteers, donors and fundraisers – so that we can continue to provide the much-appreciated service that so many people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly rely on.

For more information on volunteering or donating to Citizens Advice Cornwall, please visit the website at citizenadvicecornwall.org.uk

FROM THE FRONTLINE: STORIES OF PEOPLE WHO COME TO CITIZENS ADVICE CORNWALL

GEORGIA Georgie rented her apartment from a housing association. She has autism and sometimes interacting with others can be very stressful.

Her apartment was a sanctuary away from the world and a place where she felt safe. When people spoke to Georgie, she didn’t always react calmly and there had been a few complaints.

The housing association sent Georgie a letter alleging antisocial behavior 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 saw Georgie as ‘different’.

Georgie came to see us and we wrote up a defense and represented her in court. We pointed out that the housing association failed to follow its own rules and properly investigate the allegations. They had not considered Georgie’s disability in their decisions and owed Georgie a duty of care.

We resisted eviction and helped Georgie build a better relationship with her housing association. In the future, she feels she can talk to them if she has any problems.

(Name changed to protect identity).

Julie

Julie was referred to our Powerhouse energy project. She had been with her supplier for six months and had not received an invoice. When she received her first bills, she already owed £673 for electricity and gas.

Julie is a single mother with a very low income. She had saved £200 for her energy, but knew that would not be enough to cover what she owed. She suffers from ADHD and anxiety and finds debt to be a mental health trigger. She kept looking at her family budget but couldn’t 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 consumption and showed her how to read her gas meter.

We helped her negotiate the monthly gas and electricity payments. The provider said she would have to pay £122 per month. She couldn’t afford it, but we found that since our participation, her electricity consumption had dropped by a third. We asked the supplier for a lower monthly payment of £100. Julie has been successfully making these payments ever since.

We also helped Julie apply for the Warm Home discount and register for the Priority Services Registry for Vulnerable People. We helped her apply for a grant to clear her debt with the British Gas Energy Trust and she received £434. Additionally, we helped her apply for exceptional tax relief and she received £450 of household support grant.

In addition to the savings from the advice, we have helped to increase Julie’s household budget by £1,147.

She allocated the two grants to her energy bills and now has a credit of £291 in her gas account and £250 in her electricity account. Her position has improved a lot and she feels much more confident in managing her energy bills in the future.

CARLY

Carly was receiving help with mental health issues when she came to Citizens Advice for help with budgeting and electricity and rent debts.

Her severe anxiety meant she was unable to make calls or email creditors. She was also struggling to fill out forms and needed help with benefits court and housing issues.

Our specialist adviser spoke with the electricity supplier to establish Carly’s usage, debt and payments and helped her secure a £300 grant to clear her debt. The councilor also spoke to his 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 was at the end of the councils when Carly was able to call the council herself about her council tax to provide her bank details. She had previously been unable to make calls to her creditors, so this was a real step forward.

Citizens Advice Cornwall also helped Carly with her appeal for disability benefits, which included writing letters of support, contacting her GP and sending photos of her disability because she felt she couldn’t show up in person. Although the court agreed to a paper hearing, an administrative error led them to contact Carly and ask why she was not there. The adviser appeared in court to explain the situation and Carly was awarded the maximum rate of personal independence payment for mobility and living, which when backdated was over £6,800.

David

David’s landlord sent a letter threatening to sue for a substantial amount of back rent.

David had many debts and he paid as much as he could to the credit card companies who sent letters every week and called his cell phone every day. He hadn’t even realized he was behind on rent.

David was so down that he contemplated suicide. Debt had skyrocketed after losing his job during the pandemic and the breakdown of his marriage.

We worked closely with a local mental health charity who helped David with advice. Our advisor helped David prioritize his finances and set up an ongoing rent and arrears payment that his landlord agreed to, so he could keep his house.

We also negotiated with the owner to carry out the necessary repairs on the house and reduce the arrears compared to the cost of these. We wrote to David’s other creditors to set up payment terms he could afford. Managing David’s debts and prioritizing payments helped him feel in control and improved his mental health. With a stable home and control of his finances, David felt well enough to find another job.

GRACE

Grace came to our Powerhouse team to help contact her supplier.

She was so shy and anxious that she couldn’t bring herself to talk on the phone with someone she didn’t know. She had been homeless in the past, sleeping rough for a brief period and 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 a Teams session later, she has now: Set up a Direct Debit with her provider, which she arranged herself via the chat on the supplier’s website, · is on the Water Maintenance Tariff with South West Water, thanks to our intervention, and · has received a £500 grant for the carpeting of his flat.

Her carpeted bedroom and living room will now be much more comfortable and easier to heat.

Grace also took our energy skills course, so she now knows how to save electricity and gas, how to calculate her bill and what help is available to pay her fuel bills.