ONE YEAR ON: Citizens' Advice says thousands of Wigan residents have needed help in pandemic
The charity also says some people in the borough have ended up in truly desperate financial situations in the last 12 months.
Citizens’ Advice Wigan Borough says it has helped more than 10,000 people in need since the first national lockdown was announced a year ago.
Benefits issues, council tax arrears and employment problems have been some of the most common subjects Wiganers have sought help with during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
And the charity says it has encountered some deeply concerning situations where residents have been placed in dire straits financially.
Shocking cases the team has handled include a woman who was self-employed and lost most of her income due to the pandemic, an elderly woman unable to pay rent on her council property after moving into retirement housing and a woman who was shielding and unable to be furloughed but whose Universal Credit wasn’t enough to cover her monthly bills.
The charity has also been forced into massive changes in the way it works, with face-to-face appointments replaced by remote or virtual methods of assistance and staff leaving the office to work from home.
Bosses applauded the way the charity’s workforce has coped with the challenges of coronavirus but warned that it expects there to be little let-up in demand for its services even when restrictions are released and life begins to return to something like normal as the support structures which have helped people through the pandemic will also be rolled back.
Lisa Kidston, chief officer of Citizens’ Advice Wigan Borough, said: “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 helped 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’ve also spoken to clients worried about consumer and non-consumer debt during the pandemic, for example council tax arrears, which is a growing issue.
“We know people are going to continue needing our help as we begin the process of recovery, and we urge anyone that needs our support to get in touch as soon as possible.
“With the furlough scheme, ban on bailiff-enforced evictions, and Universal Credit uplift set to end within six months, now’s the time to contact our team for free, impartial, independent advice.”
The charity helped 4,700 people with benefits including Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment and 1,200 residents with employment issues between March 1 last year and February 28 this year.
Citizens’ Advice had to move quickly at the start of the pandemic to help more people via phone, email and webchat.
In the last 12 months around 65 per cent of people were helped over the phone, 20 per cent via email and 10% per cent via webchat.
This is a huge change from the year before when 55 per cent of people were helped at a face-to-face appointment.
The charity’s team of around 45 staff and volunteers have had to leave the office behind and have instead been working from their living rooms, bedrooms, dining tables and kitchens.
Anyone requiring assistance can contact Citizens’ Advice Wigan Borough on 08082 787 801 or visit www.cawb.org.uk
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