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

 

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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

 

Feedback from CASW stakeholder event November 2017

Citizens Advice brought together key organisations in the South Warwickshire area who represent the communities we live in, but serve different needs.   We wanted to see how CA and the wider third sector could work on these priorities and help those most in need. Our focus was on two areas –  financial inclusion and health and well being problems.  A full list of who attended can be found at the end of this summary.

The session was opened by Dave Webb, Executive Director of Stratford District Council, Chris Elliott, CEO of Warwick District Council and Phil Evans, Head of Community Services at Warwickshire County Council.  

The common themes that emerged from all of their priorities were to work well with partner organisations, listen to the needs of the communities, be able to intervene earlier with problem issues and better use of  technology.

The 10 workshop groups were able to bring their focus on the issues under discussion.

Since the workshops, we have taken the opportunity to pull out common themes and concerns raised through the workshop groups to bring them together in one document.  We would like to continue this dialogue with some of our partners on these areas, which are priorities for us all.

As a very busy generalist front line service, CASW is able to help assist with many of the issues delegates identified and discussed. We are also aware that we all work better together as a partnership. Importantly CASW is often in a position to spot emerging issues at an early stage, by working with partners we can set up special projects or areas of help at an early stage.

Under the two headings, here’s a summary of the subjects that were raised and discussed. Our Chief Executive, Aidan Knox, is keen to establish a reference group to see if working with our partners we can find better solutions to these issues.

Financial inclusion
Universal credit/welfare reform
Delays in housing benefits
Links to JCP
Links to DWP
There is a clear need to support people to be more prepared for changes to benefits

Housing
Homelessness
Lack of support for tenants
Quality of housing (brought up a few times)
Lack of social housing
Accessibility to housing (Fordham housing, key workers’ housing)
Sustaining tenancies e.g. Bromford

Access to services
Digital exclusion
Rural transport

Health and well being

Mental health
Vulnerability and different definitions 
Loneliness – aging population and losing a partner
Greater awareness with statutory services of mental health and the multiple issues associated with it – e.g. the impacts on finance
No support with benefits or housing unless they are in a crisis

How to get/signposting for help/partnership work

Good signposting to relevant well-being agencies
Avoid duplication
Statutory care providers difficult to access

Concluding thoughts
With the wide cross section of groups who took part in the workshops and the shared expertise, it is apparent that more working together can help alleviate problems.  There is a clear need for

  • Early intervention not crisis management. This applies to both health and wellbeing as well as financial inclusion. For many with mental health problems there is little  support with benefits or housing unless they are in a crisis.
  • Important to maintain outreach to ensure we reach those physically/emotionally unable to reach offices. Given the rural nature of much of the area,  an outreach/hub setting for statutory and voluntary services to work together is vital
  • Helping clients to deal with their issues by working with other agencies. There is pressure on social services to resolve issues quickly, but what about the need for ongoing support ?

Our thanks to groups who attended on the day
Stratford upon Avon District Council
The Royal British Legion
Bromford Housing Association
Warwickshire County Council
Orbit
Barnardos – Leamington Children’s Centre
Job Centre Plus Coventry and Warwickshire
Office of Jeremy Wright MP
Addaction / The Recovery Partnership
Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire
WRCC Warwickshire Rural Community Council
Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action
Royal Leamington Spa Town Council
Kenilworth Town Council
Stratford Town Trust
Heart of England Mencap
Springfield Mind
Warwick District Council
Harbury e-Wheels transport scheme
Municipal Charities of Stratford-on-Avon

Big Energy Saving Week – Our volunteer hits the switch!

Brrrr. It’s a cold wintery January morning outside and my energy supplier has just written to let me know my current tariff is due to end soon. Oh no, I think, now what is it going to cost? I hate having news of price rises, especially just after Christmas. The new tariff looks like it will be another £40 a month more than we were paying!

I have definitely been guilty of putting such letters in a big pile to deal with later, to then find it months later and realise that if I had looked it at it sooner I could have saved us money. Money that I could have spent on that new pair of shoes my daughter desperately needs!

I am determined this won’t happen this year so the opportunity to write this blog as a volunteer for Citizens Advice in Warwickshire (Leamington and Stratford Upon Avon) was the perfect opportunity to actually do it this year! Turns out it all comes down to three steps: check – switch – save.

Check
The government and energy providers have been trying to make it easier for people to switch suppliers for a while. Good news! Because let’s face it; the reason why so many of us don’t switch is that it can be a bit overwhelming. Now your current energy provider should issue you with:

  • a notice 42-49 days before the end of your current tariff. If you switch after this point you shouldn’t be charged a termination fee. The notice should detail a personal projection to estimate your energy costs over the next 12 months and provide details of your existing suppliers’ cheapest tariff. Be aware, if you have not received a notice, your bill should state whether you are on a fixed tariff and whether there is termination fee.
  • You are not automatically switched to your suppliers’ cheapest tariff as these are often the fixed deals. They will provide you with their standard tariff. This means you are not fixed into a deal automatically, so you are free to shop around should you forget to renew it or switch. Remember the standard tariffs can be the most expensive so it is best to switch before your fixed tariff runs out!

I have put together a few tips of what to consider when checking your current deals:

  • Get your last bill and the notice regarding your end of tariff, this information makes your energy supplier comparison search must simpler. It will detail your estimated annual usage for electricity and gas in kWh.
  • Next, work out how much you currently pay per month and per year. Most of the comparison websites refer to both of these rates with these you can easily compare how much you would save

Be careful when you work out your current monthly spend, for example, I hadn’t noticed on the latest bill they had increased my gas direct debit by £24 a month. They had estimated my last bill as we just never got around to giving them our meter reading, this might have been a totally unnecessary increase!

Also remember to check what benefits or schemes you might be entitled to if you are struggling to pay your energy bills. You can check these here:  https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/get-help-paying-your-bills/grants-and-benefits-to-help-you-pay-your-energy-bills/ , at your local Citizens Advice or by calling the Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06

Switch
Citizens Advice have devised their own independent full market comparison tool which you can trust to provide an objective comparison. Go to the price comparison tool website where they will ask a few key details such as your postcode, current tariff supplier, tariff name and the annual usage in kWh https://energycompare.citizensadvice.org.uk/

I did this and within seconds I had been given a choice of 333 energy tariffs with 277 of them saving me money, with the best saving £374 a year!

A word of warning here: if good customer service is important to you take note of the right-hand column. This outlines what customer service rating the provider has. This is something I do value as I have had issues with previous suppliers which took them months to ensure they were charging us the right amount!

Still feel overwhelmed? If you think you could use some help, this service is also available at your local Citizens Advice or if in England you can call the Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Save
Aside from switching suppliers you can also save on energy bills by making your home more energy efficient. You can do this by insulating walls, double glazing or simply using thicker curtains to keep the heat in. Also aim to get your boiler serviced or replaced to make sure it is energy efficient.

Smart meters should also be made available by suppliers by 2020 which should encourage us all to take more control of their energy use. They can help you become more aware such as turning off plugs, not charging mobiles and laptops too long get into the habit of turning off appliances rather than leaving them on standby.

Find out how to get lower energy bills and a more comfortable home with the Energy Saving Trust’s Home Energy Check at http://hec.est.org.uk/ . This will show you whether any investments will be cheaper in the long run.

This blog is part of Big Energy Saving Week 2018. For more information on the big energy saving week please visit:www.bigenergysavingweek.org.uk

 

Not what you signed up for? Problems with subscriptions

With ever inventive ways to lure us to shop – from Black Friday offers to Cyber Monday discounts –  it seems the shops are creating newer, better marketing to get us to buy their products and the offers seem all too tempting. So it is important to be aware of a few pitfalls out there.

Whilst not all shops are unscrupulous, many products are now on subscription and it is these products we at Citizens Advice are focussing on during National Consumer Week, this week.  Many of us find online shopping the easiest and simplest way to shop and it can be all too easy to click “buy” from your phone or device without paying too much attention to what you are really buying and signing up to. If the product is a subscription product such as a magazine, skin cream or activity box, we can unwittingly sign up to more than we bargained for.  Marketing campaigns designed to hook you in on an offer of a free trial and once that trial period is up can, begin charging you whatever amount they wish. These subscriptions are easy to agree to but may be harder to get out of so make sure you look out for the following essentials when purchasing:

  • Before you give your bank details make sure that the product is a set cost and the terms clearly state, they will deduct the same amount each month.
  • The length of the contract and how much notice you need to give to end it.
  • If you pay by Direct Debit (DD) be sure you are signing up to a DD and not a Continuous Payment Authority (CPA). A DD will take the same amount each month on the same date, a CPA is different and the charges can vary.
  • Free trials can lead to auto-enrolments to subscriptions.
  • If you change your mind, you have a 14 day cooling off period, so make sure you contact the provider to end the contract.
  • Be sure the offer is from a genuine company and not a scam. The website should start with https:// and display a padlock.
  • Watch out for pre-ticked boxes as you sign up, read the small print carefully.
  • Facing ongoing payments you didn’t sign up for this CyberMonday, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ncw17 to find out more about how to cancel.

During 2015-2016 over 16 million people signed up to subscription products and it is now believed 9 out of 10 consumers use them in one form or another.  But whilst we want to be sure we know what we’re agreeing to sometimes it’s just not as simple as that, so please watch out and shop carefully. For more information on National Consumer Week please go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ncw17

Debt and problems with the benefits system top list for Citizens Advice

Problems with benefits, universal credit and debt are at the top issues faced by people coming to Citizens Advice South Warwickshire, but housing and rural isolation are of growing concern.
In the South Warwickshire area more than 34,000 advice issues were addressed and more than 7,500 enquirers were helped, the annual general meeting heard.
Aidan Knox, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice South Warwickshire said the figures demonstrated that people were coming with multiple problems and even though half of the working age clients were employed, the “just about managing” were often struggling with debt issues.
The affordability of housing was a problem in the district with housing related costs, including fuel costs, putting real pressure on families.
“Thanks to Stratford District Council, we’ve been able to fund a part-time court desk service to help people threatened with homelessness and repossession. The number of cases we’ve seen has gone up three fold compared with the same period last year, and we can only see this continuing”, he said.
By stopping one family becoming homeless, Citizens Advice saved the local authority £16,500 on average. During the past year CASW had helped clients claim more than £1.7 million worth of benefits that they were entitled to but not claiming. More than £400,000 worth of debt was written off and a further £200,000 worth of debt rescheduled.
The work done by the 150 volunteers had been officially valued at more than £1 million. Aidan Knox also thanked the major funders for their support of CASW, including Warwickshire County Council, Warwick District Council, Stratford District council and Stratford Town Trust.
Chris Elliott, Chief Executive of Warwick District Council said the work of Citizens Advice was very valued by the Council and there were shared aims in finding and helping those most in need. He was concerned about finding ways to soften the impact as people in the area move to Universal Credit.
Dave Webb, Executive Director of Stratford District Council said the council placed a high value on the relationships with Citizens Advice. “You provide incredible value for money and we see first-hand the work you do to help vulnerable households in the district”, he told the meeting.
Yvonne Hunter, Chair of CASW, said they were very aware of the financial restraints on their funders and partners. “But I hope you can see that funding us is a form of community investment. Giving us some income is a way to reduce the burden on local services. And when we are able to help our clients gain their proper entitlements, this is also money spent locally and returned to the local community”.

Left to right, Chris Elliott, CEO of Warwick District Council, Aidan Knox, CEO of CASW, Phil Evans, Head of Communities at Warwickshire County Council and Yvonne Hunter, Chair of CASW

Citizens Advice thanks volunteers for solving people’s problems and making a difference

Citizens Advice South Warwickshire is celebrating the inspirational volunteers who dedicate their time to solving people’s problems and making a difference to their lives.

To mark Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) the charity is shining a spotlight on the contribution of the 135 volunteers who give up an average of 6 hours a week to help people find a way forward.

Last year Citizens Advice South Warwickshire helped more than 7,500 people with over 34,000 issues – from housing and debt to benefit and employment rights.  This year the Stratford and Warwick citizens advice services merged together and now serve a population of more a quarter of a million.

Nigel Milne has been a volunteer the Leamington office with CASW for the last 5 years.  After a career in banking and IT, working for companies like TSB and Greater Manchester police, he took early retirement.  He has completely revamped the IT service of CASW and taken a lead role in training everyone on how to use the new system.

“I know it can sound a cliché, but I did want to give something back when I finished work.  Volunteering has given me a lot of personal and professional satisfaction.  I’m not on the front line helping clients directly, but the advisors couldn’t do their job without the background support that I’ve been able to give.   And it’s also meant I don’t have time to be a couch potato, which could have happened! “

Henry Lu has been a volunteer at the Stratford office for the last 5 years.  He spent his career in power system engineering and accountancy. Henry’s claim to fame was being the first advisor to help Megan Giglia, the gold medal Paralympic cyclist, when she was having difficult times in Stratford and she turned to Citizens Advice for help 4 years ago.

Henry (pictured with Paralympic gold medal winner Megan Giglia) said: “It’s always my hope that my clients don’t give up hope and can be helped back to a normal life.  But what Megan achieved by turning her life around and winning UK’s first Paralympic gold at Rio is beyond a dream.”

“I  find advising people is most worthwhile and meaningful . Experiencing other people’s far more challenging problems puts my own into perspective.  It’s very rewarding”.

Charlie Adams, advice services manager for CASW said: “Thanks to our amazing volunteers we are able to help local people who are going through problems to get back on their feet.  If you can spare a few hours each week, we would love to hear from you.  We are particularly looking for volunteers with IT skills who could help Nigel and keep us running smoothly”.

“Volunteering brings its own rewards and is a great way to meet new people and learn new skills.”

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering with Citizens Advice South Warwickshire, please contact tim.burden@casouthwarwickshire.org.uk  for Warwick and Leamington or 
maria. veitch@casouthwarwickshire.org.uk for Stratford-upon Avon area.