Benefits problems stacking up in Warwickshire

More than half the people who came to Citizens Advice for help in South Warwickshire are having problems with claiming  benefits, according to their Annual report 2017-18 .

Universal Credit has been introduced to the Stratford District area, but Warwick district has only just had the welform reform measure introduced and more problems are expected.

Universal credit  and other benefit issues such as tax credits were responsible for 10,000 problems faced by the local charity in 2017 /18.  In total Citizens Advice South Warwickshire handled more than 32,000 issues, with one in four of the clients having debt problems.  There was a rise in the number of people coming to Citizens Advice for food bank vouchers because their income was insufficient to support themselves or  their families.

Jeremy Vanes, CEO of CASW, High Sheriff Clare Sawdon and Yvonne Hunter Chair of CASW

Yvonne Hunter, chair of Citizens Advice South Warwickshire told the annual general meeting: “Many of our clients are struggling with increasingly complex issues and often we are the only source of help when they need someone to speak up for them”. 

“We are incredibly grateful to our funders who, in difficult economic times, have continued to support us.   As a lean and local charity, it is our volunteers and our funders who enable our service to be delivered.  Those funds act as a good investment when you look at how we are able to get people back on their feet and ensure they are getting all the  support they need.”

High Sheriff Clare Sawdon presented long  service awards to volunteers and staff. Warwick District Councillor Neale Murphy, a former fireman, said Citizens Advice had saved more lives than he had during his career. 

 

Court Desk Service

The Court Desk Service provided by CASW is an established and respected service available to all residents in Stratford District and funded by Stratford District Council

It is a comprehensive “wrap-around” service.  This means that we support people before, during and after Court proceedings, including attending clients and providing advocacy in the Court room.

Our overarching aim is to provide consistently excellent advice to our clients who are often feeling overwhelmed by a complex welfare benefit and court system.

We prefer always to work cooperatively with Landlords, Housing associations, the District Council and our Partners to find sustainable solutions.  We aim to help our clients to remain in their homes by affording their rent and avoiding the devastating effect of homelessness.

How do we work?

Before Court

We encourage referrals from anyone who is struggling to pay their rent. The earlier we receive the referral the more we can do!  We explain the Repossession Process to clients to help people to understand that their cooperation is essential to navigating their way safely through the stages.  We assist clients with their budgeting so that their income is maximised (this may mean ensuring that clients are receiving the correct entitlement to welfare benefits) and also reducing their outgoings.  We help clients to access the best water gas and electricity tariffs and look at money-saving ideas. We help clients to apply for Discretionary Housing Payments where appropriate.

We explain the difference between priority and nonpriority debts so that clients can understand that their rent is one of their most important outgoings.  We can also consider different ways to ease the burden of non-priority debts including making token offers, Debt Management Plans, considering DROs, Bankruptcy and also write-offs.

Wherever possible we try to reach agreements with Landlords prior to Court to ease the stress for our client and to encourage the repayment to start as soon as possible.

At Court

Our Court Desk Worker is an experienced advocate.  We attend every Tuesday Possession Hearing and spend the time negotiating wherever possible and supporting our clients with advocacy in the hearing.  Our services are valued by the Judiciary. Our Court Desk worker attends every County Court User meeting which helps the Judge to understand the intricacies and challenges of the benefits system.  This in turn results in realistic Orders leading in turn to tenancies that are more likely to be sustained.

After Court

We provide ongoing financial capability support.  Our clients have ever-evolving lives and this sometimes necessitates Orders to be varied when their circumstances change in order to avoid a breach of the Order.  We prepare the paperwork to make these applications and attend with clients as necessary. Where eviction warrants are issued we can act swiftly to get the matter to Court and to work hand in glove with the District Council to see whether extra support might be available to our clients.  In these situations we are often working closely with our Partners to provide the necessary support for clients e.g St Basils, P3, Together etc.

Making a Referral is very straightforward – simply email Helen.knight@casouthwarwickshire.org.uk or call on 01789 200134.  Once we have received consent to do so, we get in touch with tenants and arrange for them to have an appointment.  This might be at one of our outreached, at their home address or at our offices in Stratford or Leamington

If you would like to receive promotional material to give out to your clients please be in touch and we can supply leaflets and posters for your offices.