Charity helps thousands of people in Lancaster and Morecambe with benefits, debt and housing issues during pandemic year
Citizens Advice North Lancashire has helped over 5,000 people during the past year of the pandemic.
The charity, which quickly adapted to help more people via the phone, email and webchat, says benefits, debt and housing have been its top pandemic issues.
Between 1 March 2020 and 28 February this year, it has helped 2170 people with benefits including Universal Credit, and 907 people with debt issues.
Citizens Advice North Lancashire said it has seen many worrying cases including self-employed people who have not qualified for the SEISS schemes and those who have not been given the self-isolation payment despite having to stay off work due to Coronavirus.
It has been particularly concerned about the inadequacy of Sick Pay to cover people’s expenses when they are off work due to self-isolation and this has led to severe hardship, debt and rent arrears in many cases.
71% of people were helped over the phone and 29% via email.
This represents a complete change in the service as before the pandemic the majority of clients were seen face to face at the Lancaster and Morecambe offices.
Thirty-five staff and volunteers have been working from their living rooms, dining tables and kitchens to make sure people could still access much-needed help.
Helen Greatorex, CEO of Citizens Advice North Lancashire said “We’ve all been on a rollercoaster of change throughout this pandemic.
“We’ve spoken to people who’ve never used Citizens Advice before, have never claimed benefits before and have had a steady income for years, if not decades. Suddenly, they feel if the rug has been pulled from under them and they don’t know what to do.
“We’re here to listen, support and then help them find a way forward, and it’s a reward to hear the relief in their voices at the end of the call.
"I’d like to thank our staff and volunteers who’ve continued to help people find a way forward, as we face the problems of this pandemic together.
“Our advisers have been able to help people check what benefits they’re entitled to, navigate the furlough scheme, and ensure they’re getting all the help and support that is on offer.
“We know people are going to need our help as we begin on the road to recovery, and we urge anyone that needs some support to get in touch as soon as possible.”
For information and advice, contact Citizens Advice North Lancashire free on 0808 278 7882 or by email at [email protected]