Partners’ Summer Briefing:
The figures include the first two weeks of the coronavirus emergency, as well as the first week of the lockdown.
The lockdown itself has seen a very significant change in advice patterns – both in Salford and nationally. The most significant change being the noticeable increase in employment enquiries (relating to the furlough scheme, health and safety at work, terms and conditions, and redundancy), as well as a large spike in Universal Credit issues. This has been combined with a noticeable decline in debt – at least at the enforcement stage, as well as housing evictions; because of the government imposed forbearance measures that were quickly introduced as a crisis response.
Information on the national picture – which is very telling in terms of understanding imminent social policy pressures is available from the national service’s regular data digest at www.wearecitizensadvice.org.uk.
Since the lockdown we have been operating via a virtual call centre, taking advantage of national support allowed this to be created within three days – and is delivered at no extra cost to our clients or ourselves. A single phone number is switched to staff working from their homes – with typically eight people available at any one time. This operates until from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Through funding from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Mayor all the Citizens Advice services across Greater Manchester are working together to provide additional out of hours phone and digital support up to 10 p.m. each day.
Our recovery plan will be published at the beginning of July and details how we plan to restore more normal working.
Quarter 4 Client Use Summary:
There are no great changes over quarter 3 (October to December 2019) and quarter 4 (January to March 2020) in terms of overall clients advised, which was 5,292. This does not include the clients supported via the help to claim service. There was a noticeable trend over both these quarters around a steady increase in employment related enquires, which combined with lengthening waiting times for debt appointments – is somewhat suggestive of an underlying weakness developing in the local economy, even before the current crisis.
Employment advice jumped sharply in quarter 4 by some 63% on the previous quarter – to some 1,170 employment issues. This marked increase includes a particular spike that occurred in March as the crisis developed – but is a part of a broader upwards movement over the last six months.
Universal Credit issues were up by 19% in the core service (not including the help to claim service) which when combined with a minimal shift in all other benefit enquires reflects both the continued process of people being moved on to UC, as well as the weakening economic picture.
The numbers of people supported via the Help to Claim service – which are not included in the above data – was for the year ending March 31, some 3,159 additional clients with £6.3 million in benefits claimed. The pattern of the quarter on quarter data is affected by the confirmation of funding at the beginning of the year – as well as the late decision by the DWP to re-fund the service.
The money gained for our clients in quarter 4 was £2.91 million (or £12.6 million gained and £2.1 million in debts written off over the year).
Housing Advice Specialist Service Refunded:
We were delighted to hear that the funding for our specialist service providing advice for people in the private rented housing sector was to be renewed. This combined with our housing legal aid partnership gives Salford Citizens good access to much needed specialist housing advice.
Advice Services Quality Marking:
Following our recent full three yearly audit of both the quality of our advice and our leadership, we were awarded full specialist marking in welfare rights and debt advising – as well as the special channel advice quality mark for telephone advising. This makes us the only organisation in Salford to hold this level of independently awarded quality marking, along with regulation by the Financial Conduct Authority as well as regulation by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner.
Period Poverty Work:
We wound down the Salford Red Box Project during this quarter – as the national schools scheme came online in January. This marked the end of a part of a piece of work that we had been working on for over two years – to ensure that all of Salford’s schools had access to a supply of free sanitary products and fresh underwear – ensuring that no girl or young women would lose a day of her education due to period poverty. The work will continue in terms of the support provided to food clubs, food banks, homelessness services, and a number of women’s organisations throughout the city.
School Uniform Project:
Work to set up a city wide school uniform swap scheme was ongoing throughout the quarter – but this may well be impeded by the current crisis. To date a network of five charity shops managed by two local organisations has said they are keen to deliver the project. We are hoping to meet with school leaders as soon as we can, as well as to continue with the feasibility planning.
Feeding Salford Plan – Second Version:
The Salford Food Share Network – which we support, produced a second Feeding Salford Plan in February. The plan is now being revised in light of the current crisis learning with a view to being ready soon for public consultation.
In the meantime we are about to launch a major new piece of take up work around the Healthy Start Voucher scheme here in Salford – and hopefully with our Grater Manchester Citizens Advice partners working across Greater Manchester. This will look at capturing the newly eligible households for the scheme as they move on Universal Credit – using the Help to Claim service across all of Greater Manchester’s job centres.
Help to Claim Service refunded:
The news that the help to claim service would be refunded came just as me moved into the new financial year. Although the current crisis has impacted on the services face to face working due to the emergency arrangements put in place by the DWP – we have been working closely with our DWP colleagues to ensure the best of support for very significant new numbers of Universal Credit claimants.