To receive a presentation from Ms. Alex Hughes, Chief Executive Officer, Citizens’ Advice Rushmoor, on their current priorities and emerging issues.
The Panel welcomed Ms. Alex Hughes, Chief Executive Officer, Citizens’ Advice who attended the meeting to give a presentation on the recent activities of the organisation. Citizens’ Advice offered an advice service via face-to-face contact, over the phone, via live webchat and through a comprehensive website to help people with a wide range of issues. Rushmoor’s Citizens’ Advice was financed through a variety of funding streams including, the Council, Pension Wise and the local Clinical Commissioning Groups.
The Panel noted the trends in issues tackled. The highest proportion of issues related to benefits and tax credits, and finance and capability, on which the introduction of Universal Credit and Welfare Reform was a significant factor. Advice assessments and face-to-face contact were the two main channels for delivery of support, although there had been an increase in contact via the web. Citizens’ Advice were there to help everyone and reached 4.4% of any local population, this raised to 9% in areas of deprivation.
Ms Hughes explained that over 300 independent local charities made up the national Citizens’ Advice network. The 36 million customers, nationally, using the website benefited from realtime updated information and the 2.7 million face to face customers had access to 2,900 locations across the country. National statistics showed that two in every three clients had their problem solved.
Housing advice was a large part of the work carried out by Citizens’ Advice. Knowledge, legal advice and an understanding of local processes were the key things that Citizens’ Advice could bring to a client in need, this resulted in savings to the local authority and social services to the sum of £24,000 – £30,000 per individual. During 2016/17, Citizens’ Advice had generated savings in the region of £203,000 through reducing the risk of homelessness in Rushmoor.
On benefits and tax credit advice, the introduction of Universal Credit and Welfare Reform had resulted in an increase in clients requesting support in this area. Through working with the Council, Citizens’ Advice had reduced financial difficulties to over 1,300 clients and prevented the need for more critical and costly state intervention.
It was noted that debt advice had reduced in recent years, although numbers were still high with 626 clients with 1686 debt problems contacting the Citizens’ Advice in 2016/17. Some clients had successfully rescheduled a total of £722,881 of debt, an average of £5,146 per client and 45 clients had written off £889,135 of debt, an average of £19,784 each. The advice offered by the Citizens’ Advice had been around the prevention of escalation and stabilising finances now and in the future.
Ms Hughes explained that the advice provided by Citizens’ Advice had a significant impact on the lives of its clients. It was noted that clients were less stressed, had more money and felt more in control of their finances, had a more secure housing situation, felt their physical health had improved and had better relationships with others.
It was noted that Citizens’ Advice carried out educational work in a variety of areas to help customers, these included building confidence and skills, financial capability, Energy Best Deal (an initiative to inform decisions on energy deals) and Scam Awareness talks. Locally, specific campaigns and engagement had centred around gambling, “Welfare Reform and Working Families” and “Settled and Safe, a Renter’s Rights”. A multi agency advice provision, where Citizens’ Advice team worked with VIVID, PeoplePlus, Job Centre Plus, Home Group and the Council, was also in place to offer a smoother journey for clients and allowed adaption to meet local needs, an example of which was the Nepalese drop in service which had been established in 2016 to provide specific information/advice to the Nepalese community. Pensionwise, which offered advice on pensions and Heathlands, a provision that offered advice to patients with mental health issues, were also examples of the work adapted for the community with Rushmoor.
The Panel was informed of the value and vital role of volunteers to the Citizens’ Advice, it was reported that 121 volunteers had worked with the organisation during 2016/17. Volunteering helped the individuals build confidence and self esteem and also provided wider economic and social benefits.
In response to a query, it was advised that the one in three cases that didn’t get resolved were more complicated and couldn’t be dealt with at the advice interview stage of the processes, these cases generally required more specific advice and the client would be referred to a third party, such as a solicitor.
It was noted that the work carried out with the Nepalese community ran alongside the provisions provided by the Gurkha Welfare Advice Centre, who offered advice and assistance with more statutory needs, such as Ministry of Defence, Department of Work and Pensions and visa issues. Citizens’ Advice could advise on the more day to day issues around benefits and household bills.
The Chairman thanked Ms. Hughes for her presentation.