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