Presentation at December’s Salford City Council Policy Forum:
“Impacts of COVID-19”

Salford Citizens Advice was delighted to be asked to present to Salford City
Councilors and Senior Officers in this month’s Policy Forum meeting.

Tom Togher, chief officer began by reminding attendees that Salford Citizens
Advice was one of a 280 independent services which all come together through a
national charity to form the national Citizens Advice service – and that Salford
Citizens Advice was one of those original services set up at the outbreak of the
second world war, and this being our 80 th anniversary year had a special
symmetry as we find ourselves again being a central part of the local and
national response to a national crisis.

The Citizens Advice service provides the national consumer advice service,
national money advice service, the pension wise service and witness support

In a usual year – Salford Citizens Advice would provide advice to about 20,000
people with something like 80,000 different sorts of problems. Of these
problems the biggest issues would be benefits advice, debt, housing advice, and
then employment advice. In addition, we provide advice on immigration,
consumer advice, family law, health and care support, tax as well as hardship.
The Salford service is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, Office of
Immigration Services Commissioner, and Charity Commission. Our debt advisers
are members of the Institute of Money Advisers, as well as being registered debt
relief order intermediaries. We hold specialist advice quality marking in debt and
benefits advice as well as in giving phone advice.

The presentation covered:

1. Service delivery through the COVID-19 crisis.
2. The changed face of advice during the crisis.
3. Some strategic issues as a result of the crisis.
4. A quick review of some of the food poverty issues.
5. A review of our current programme of campaigns work.


1. Service delivery through the Covid crisis:


It took just under four days to set up a virtual telephone service, with the
support of the national association of Citizens Advice, we were able to move to
phone switching to staff mobile phones through our single local advice line
phone number. Staff working from home, with face-to-face services offered as
soon as the law allowed. Services in third party venues – such as homelessness
centres, food banks etc. were halted, but arrangements for support put in place.
Service volumes are broadly at a 95% level of normal provision in overall
volume, but there is a significant shift in the advice categories and to a lesser
extend in our clients’ demographics.
There was a significant impact in the range of various forbearance measures –
such as the finance industry wide moratorium that is running until April, a
temporary suspension of housing evictions, debt recovery relief from the DWP,
as well as a halt to bailiff seizure until the end of January. This was combined
with the introduction of the furlough scheme, the £20 uplift to Universal Credit,
as well as substantial additional resources to deliver the extra UC claims.

2. Changed face of advice giving during the crisis:

There had been an initial reduction in the call for debt advice – this is almost
certainly due to the various forbearance measures. Levels of debt casework are
now running at about 90% of usual levels.
Housing advice paused briefly, but then quickly changed to being more about
housing conditions, housing allocations and homelessness.
Benefits appeal work had been very low – again due to paused actions by the
DWP, as well as we think staff moves within the department to support universal
credit delivery. (We think there is likely to be a backlog of appeals when things
start to move back to normal working.) We noted that in one week in the early
period of the crisis – in April before the furlough scheme had properly started,
universal credit queries were running at six times their normal levels – the new
claims level has now leveled out at just about twice as many claimants as
Employment advice was much increased – at about three and a half times the
normal levels of enquires (2,458 issues in Q1), largely around the new furlough
scheme, redundancy, changes to pay and conditions, as well as dismissals.

Over the first six months of the crisis (Q1 and Q2) we advised some 9,246 people
over 33,131 issues. This does not include the help to claim service – which
through the crisis has become essentially a national service being delivered
Throughout the crisis the wards with our greatest number of clients were
Langworthy, Broughton and Ordsall – which follows the patterns of poverty in
the city.
In addition, our work supporting people to access charities or other remedies to
hardship were running at six times the normal level, with a protracted period
through which relationship enquires were running at double their normal levels.
We also, working with our other local services and through the separate Greater
Manchester Citizens Advice service, set up the Greater Manchester out of hours
Citizens Advice service – very much a part of our response to a fear of increased
suicide risk clients or clients in very acute mental distress. This is funded by the
Greater Manchester Mayor’s Office – Combined Authority.
National funding was awarded to make all local advicelines free phone numbers.

3. Some strategic issues as a result of the crisis.

The worrying trends around the marked increase in relationship enquiries
suggests a marked increase in divorce, relationship breakdown, and domestic
abuse. We also noted a virtual total collapse on referrals to our palliative care
service – suggesting a marked decline in the number of advanced cancer
diagnosis being made. The sample size is small, but the tends are very marked
indeed, and are in keeping with other reported national trends.
There has been a more than threefold increase in our employment enquiries –
(2,458 and 1,965 issues for Q1 and Q2). The increase relates to enquires about
the furlough scheme, redundancy, pay and dismissals. Young people working in
the hospitality and leisure sector, women in retail, and men in the security
industry seem to have been particularly badly affected.
The scale of the collapse of the labour market is disguised by the furlough
scheme, which ends at the end of March (now revised to end of April).
From a policy perspective – much depends on whether this disruption is
transitory or will be a long-term feature of the local labour market. If it is a
protracted change then the council may want to review its work around skills
development, and it may want to keep a watchful brief as to which sectors are

affected. The council might want to take a coordinating and supportive role to
ensure that Salford has a good uptake of the new Kickstart scheme as well as
any subsequent intermediate labour market initiatives that are launched in the
near future. It might also want to update the draft inclusive economy strategy to
take account recent labour market changes.
Debt enquires have been reasonably stable – but slightly suppressed, and are
now running at 90% in terms of casework in debt. The picture around debt is
very significantly affected (for the better) by the widescale industry forbearance
measures, which are due to end in March.
Increased unemployment rates will put a significant upwards pressure on debt
enquires over the medium term.
Actions that the council might want to be mindful of include council tax recovery;
as council tax is now the single largest driver of household debt. We note the
excellent measures in Salford, around the council tax protocol, the ‘back on
track’ campaign, as well as the coffee and chat programme. Salford is still one of
a relatively small number of local authorities having adopted the council tax
good practice protocol.
Housing advice (2,419 enquires in Q2) is 27% higher than normal levels despite
the moratorium on evictions. The majority of enquires are about disrepair,
housing allocation, and homelessness
We are concerned that there will be a spike in homelessness enquiries when the
eviction ban is lifted.
We recommend a maintained focus on the homelessness prevention duties,
developing rent and deposit bond schemes, and expansion of the local landlord
management programme, as well as maintained calls for reform of no-fault
evictions in the private sector.
Hardship enquiries have seen an increase of more than sixfold (889 issues in Q1)
– this is essentially the numbers of clients where the furlough scheme falls short,
or is not available, and support from grant giving charities is required.
Recommended policy actions here include, calling for the DWP to make
permanent easements in recovery debt from benefits, for the national
government to make permanent the £20 uplift to universal credit, and increased
support for local assistance schemes.
This area of policy has a major impact on our local food poverty work, discussed
at more length below.

The marked increase, and its prolonged period at this level of relationship
enquires is a cause for some concern. A caution is given about the sample size,
but it is also noted that this is something of a national trend, implying that our
Salford profile is not too far-off track. Policy implications from this are likely to
be increased pressure on domestic abuse services, homelessness presentations
and in the longer-term pressures on educational attainment levels.

The work around registering people for the EU Settlement Scheme has been
disrupted because of the pandemic. We think there are significant numbers
within the city’s Charedi community that are likely to need additional support
and awareness raising work. There may be a useful role played by these
communities’ local councilors. The policy issues that arise from a poor rate of
registration will be problems of establishing status and entitlement for services
as well as rights to live and work. We note the June deadline.
Digital access and problems created by the ‘digital by default’ agenda have been
problematical for those will less effective digital skills. We are seeing evidence
that the levels set to be regarded as digitally included are perhaps too low, given
the increasing need to be able to engage effectively in such as online universal
claiming, government gateway ID portals etc. The policy issues here include a
review of what core skills actually amount to being digitally included, a call to
support the provision of face-to-face support for the digitally excluded, and
improved schemes to provide the equipment and support for the data costs
around digital access – such as better work with local corporates, equipment
refurbishment, and data donation schemes, as well as the centrality of these
skills to the city’s work skills agenda.

4. A quick review of some of the food poverty issues.

As already mentioned, the crisis has added pressure on already stretched food
support services in the city. These have though, remained able to cope with the
Not enough attention is given to the quiet food club revolution in Salford –
whereby substantially more people use a food club each week then do a food
bank. There is a need to build on this – and ideas being developed include the
creation of a school uniform exchange hub working through the network of food
clubs, aligning health improvement services, credit union collection points, and
outreach advice services within the food club model – forming more

comprehensive family support hubs. Broader strategic issues remain the need
to diversify the supply chain to our food clubs, as well as to improve the
appropriateness of our offer to all parts of our community. It is also possible
that Brexit will have significant impacts on food supply, food costs, as well as
over the longer term on national food and agricultural policy creating even
greater food re-distribution issues.

5. A review of our current programme of campaigns work.

Our campaign work has been maintained throughout the crisis – but we have re-
prioritised some aspects.
Our housing research is ongoing, and we hope to produce the third and final
report into housing issues in the private rented sector – which has run for over
five years, in March.
Healthy Start uptake has collapsed during the pandemic (although Salford was
experiencing a slump in claims before the crisis), work is in hand through the
Feeding Salford plan to improve uptake, as well as a discussion with Greater
Manchester partners about a possible focused Greater Manchester wide
Similarly, discussions are happening around a more organized Greater
Manchester take up approach – probably connected to some initial work around
Pension Credit already in place.
The Fair Funeral Campaign needs refreshing and reviewing in light of a new
national Fair Funeral charter, the imminent final outcome of the Competition
and Markets Authority review into the funeral industry (published a few days
after this presentation), as well as the impact of the still relatively new local
municipal funeral offer.
The School uniform exchange hub network has already been mentioned, a
number of public meetings were held last year, and a general level blueprint for
several local charities to provide exchange schemes working through local food
clubs established.
More work is needed to engage with schools and other providers of school
uniform support.
The ambition to establish a Homelessness Commission has stalled, and this will
be reviewed, and a decision taken within the next months. A soft deadline has
been given by the city’s homelessness strategic group of six months.

We think it may be necessary to do some more direct cancer detection
awareness work – having noted the marked decline in recent referrals to our
palliative care advice service – and the subsequent discussions we have had
about the issue.
The implementation of the Feeding Salford plan II is a priority, specifically for us
is how we are to resource advice services within food support services beyond
the current lottery funding period next year.
There is a plan to do some work around reducing the impact of historical
housing costs for people where these are incurred because of domestic violence
The next generation of our period poverty work is a priority – including the
supply of menstrual products beyond the school system, as well as improving
take up of the new national product scheme across Salford’s schools.
There is work about to begin to discuss improving support to households with
pets and where their poverty leads to animal hardship – as well as strains of
family finances.
We think the council has more it could do with the ‘Better off in Salford’ brand
and would be happy to help develop this approach.
The presentation concluded with a reflection on the fact that this was our 80 th
anniversary year, and that having been founded to deal with the national
emergency that was the outbreak of war – there was a certain symmetry that we
are now playing a central role both locally and nationally in responding to this
generation’s current national emergency.

Tom Togher
December 16, 2020.