Local community hall gives boost to Citizens Advice before Christmas

Kate Rolfe, member of the Rosebird Community Hall committee hands over a cheque for £400 to Yvonne Hunter, chair of Citizens Advice South Warwickshire.  

The donation comes from the income generated by the Rosebird Community Hall which is a not for profit enterprise.  The committee donates funds back to selected good causes in the Stratford community.

Yvonne Hunter said: “As a local charity we are extremely grateful for this money which will in turn will help local people. It’s a welcome boost in difficult economic times.”

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.

 

Change for the better

ChangeX, a new project helping vulnerable adults, was launched in Stratford this week.

Ali Mainey from WCC and Trevor Preston, the founder of ChangeX

Trevor Preston, who started ChangeX, came up with the idea when he realised that many people with mental health problems don’t know about the support and agencies who can help them.  

But by joining sessions where they can meet, chat, buy and exchange CDs and DVDs they can talk about their experiences and get practical help with their issues.

Trevor said: “It’s an easy way to start a conversation with someone when you talk about films and music. So when people are buying or exchanging you can get to know them a little better in a friendly atmosphere“

“Then they can hear about the support on offer, find a buddy if they want one or get help with problems that have been bothering them.“

The project has been funded by Stratford Town Trust  and supported by Warwickshire County Council. Citizens Advice South Warwickshire, who will be one of the agencies on hand to help, supported Trevor supported him with planning and fundraising for ChangeX.

Trevor said: “I’m really grateful for this help.  They have made me believe that I can do this and Ali from Warwickshire County Council is keen to help when we come up with ideas to expand the scheme”

The ChangeX sessions when you can come along to buy, rent or exchange CDs and DVDs will be held on Tuesday mornings in Foundation House, Masons Road and the Ken Kennett Centre, Justins Avenue once it is refurbished later this year. It is open to anyone in the community.

MP for Kenilworth and Southam visits local Citizens Advice

Jeremy Wright MP joined Trustees and CEO of Citizens Advice South Warwickshire to make better connections and learn of top issues for people who seek support and advice from the local charity.

Over 1,500 people came to Citizens Advice last year from Kenilworth and Southam constituency most of whom needing support around benefits and debt.

In addition, there has been a steady rise in the number of people needing support to prevent them losing their homes. More than 100 people have been helped because of threatened homelessness last year and we helped 19 cases of actual homelessness from the Kenilworth and Southam constituency.

Jeremy said “It is always interesting to meet the local charities that help people in our communities, and Citizens Advice staff and volunteers do great work in helping with sometimes very complex problems. I am grateful to them all and will be continuing to work with them to assist my constituents.’

Jeremy Wright meets CEO and Trustees of CASW April 2018

Photo from left to right:

John Daly, Trustee, Beth Nicholson, Marketing and Development Manager, Yvonne Hunter Chair of CASW, Jeremy Wright MP, Aidan Knox CEO of CASW and Jenny Harding, Advice Services Manager

 

Facebook Blog

At Citizens Advice, we help people find a way forward. Whatever your problem is, whatever is keeping you awake at night (Assuming your little ones are letting you get any sleep that is!).  We provide free, confidential and independent advice to help people overcome their problems. So, whether you are a single parent, a grandparent, divorced, married, whatever your situation sometimes we all need a little help or a steer in the right direction (almost like a Sat Nav for the challenges life throws at us)!

After the chaos and expense of Christmas this is the time of year when everyone seems to take stock and tackle their problems. As you can see from the graph below advice demand significantly increases in January.

By far the most common issues are Benefits, Housing & Debts which isn’t surprising  given they often come hand in hand. And if you start to have employment issues, if not addressed, can quickly escalate to issues with debts and building up rent arrears. Quite often clients will come in to discuss their debts and it can quickly snowball into other areas of their life such as their employment or family matters.

 

A typical example is when a client – lets call her Louise – came into to discuss a housing query, who resides in an Orbit property and is a single mother. Louise asked us for help in fighting a repossession order on her housing. Louise is on Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. Louise is currently working on a zero hours contract but has been suffering with depression. She has been signed off work so consequently has had no income for a period of time. This built up council tax arrears along with unpaid energy bills. Louise had been given her P45 but wasn’t clear on the reasons for dismissal.

After dropping in for advice, the team referred Louise to the Money Advice Team to assist her with her budgeting. The court desk specialist assisted Louise in court to ensure they had the best chance possible in fighting her court case. We also made an application for a hardship grant as she needed a washing machine and flooring for her house and furniture for her child. We advised her to contact her employer regarding the reasons for her dismissal.

So Louise’s initial appointment ended up covering housing, debt, benefits and employment advice. This is a fairly typical scenario which for our talented Citizens Advice Advisers is clear to see. They know the right questions to ask to help unpick all the issues that are going on and refer the client to the appropriate specialist adviser, if necessary. Our advice is always seek help sooner rather than later, there might be much more help out there than you think!

This is just one example. We offer a wide range of support from advise such as your legal rights when needing time off work , help claiming Universal Credit, support available for carers, mortgage problems, consumer rights issues, problems at work or help finding a good energy supplier we can assist with all of these and more.

To keep up to date with the latest Citizens Advice news please follow the local Citizens Advice South Warwickshire facebook page whereby we will post local and national issues affecting our clients.

 

Citizens Advice says thank you for 25 years of volunteering

A Stratford volunteer with Citizens Advice has helped more than 6,000 clients during her 25 years service.

Jenny Wood-Hill started as a volunteer adviser in 1983, in the pre-computer days of carbon paper to type forms in triplicate and big paper files and reference books.

She told colleagues at Citizens Advice South Warwickshire that the service was very different without computers and the internet.  The problems of clients  today were usually more complicated than before.

Jenny said she had found volunteering very rewarding, knowing that she has been able to help so many people in difficult circumstances, and she  appreciated the fantastic support and camaraderie of colleagues.  

Yvonne Hunter, chair of the trustees of Citizens Advice South Warwickshire, thanked Jenny for her continuing service and said volunteers were vital in today’s difficult times. 

 

Ends