Citizens Advice Mendip provides support for people who need advice on a range of issues, including work, benefits, debt and housing. We provided an urgent grant to help them quickly adapt how they delivered their services as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ian Byworth, the charity's CEO, told us more about how Citizens Advice Mendip are now handling enquiries.
“Our biggest challenge has been moving from face-to-face work to working remotely via email and telephone calls. Email and phone advice was something we had always offered, but it was a much smaller part of what we did.
A lot of our advisors are volunteers, and they weren’t kitted up for remote working. We suddenly needed laptops and mobile phones to allow the continuation of our service. Now, just over half our enquiries are over the phone, around a third by email and the rest is by post.
In the last two weeks we’ve helped 212 clients with a total of 410 advice issues and problems. Universal Credit issues have doubled and now make up a quarter of the problems we’re addressing, due to the sudden increase in claims. Employment enquiries have increased from 8% to 23% where people are increasingly becoming furloughed or employers are putting people under pressure to stay at work when they feel it is compromising to do so.
We don’t just help the more vulnerable or deprived people here at Citizens Advice; we help everybody - although we do tend to be the last stop. People come to us when they have tried and failed everywhere else, or when they need clarification. There is information out there but people don’t always know how to access it. Especially important at this time is that we are able to make referrals so that people are able to access foodbanks.
The grant from the Somerset Coronavirus Appeal has been critical to us. Providing laptops and mobile phones for our volunteers and staff has been a crucial part of allowing us to continue our work.”
Ian told us about Jen’s* story:
“Jen was referred to us by a local GP surgery. She was very stressed and was self-isolating with her toddler. She was showing signs of coronavirus, had underlying health conditions and was running out of food; she had just enough for that day. Her bank account had been frozen due to existing issues with her ex-partner.
We did an urgent food bank referral, and a food parcel was delivered that same day. We also gave her the phone number for SIDAS (domestic abuse support) in case she needed it and gave advice on unfreezing her bank account.”
*Name has been changed