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One Year Since the Pandemic Began

Citizens Advice Rushmoor has helped more than 11,700 people during the past year of the pandemic.

The charity quickly adapted to help more people via the phone, email and webchat, and has identified Welfare Benefits, Employment and Debt as its top pandemic issues.

Between 1 March 2020 and 28 February this year, it has helped 2,654 people with benefits including Universal Credit, and 1,117 people with employment issues. These mainstream numbers are in addition to the specialist Pension Wise service which helped over 5,700 people.

Citizens Advice Rushmoor has seen many worrying cases such as a mum who was denied furlough despite being told to shield, people feeling obliged to work while they were self-isolating, and a case of illegal eviction, in violation of rules being in place to protect people.  One volunteer gave this example of a client she had helped:

A caller had run out of money during the cold Christmas period, and his next Universal Credit payment wasn’t due until the following month.  He had no money for food, and had had no electricity or gas for two days.  He had never used Citizens Advice before, and wouldn’t have done now, but he was due a visit from his small children (following a separation) in a couple of days, so he wanted the house to be warm for them.  He had already had emergency credit from his energy supplier, and they wouldn’t help further.  

The local office picked up the case quickly and swung into action.  A referral to the food bank was made, and there would also be an emergency fuel voucher.  The food bank said they’d put in some extra items in for the children.  It is outcomes like this which demonstrate the importance of having help at hand.

Around 79% of people were helped over the phone, 19% via email, with just 2% receiving in person help where this was required, via a Covid safe environment.   This compares to the same period in 2019/20, when a similar number of people were helped, but 39% accessed the service face-to-face.

Around 110 staff and volunteers have been working from their living rooms, dining tables and kitchens to make sure people could still access much-needed help.

Alex Hughes, from Citizens Advice Rushmoor said: “We’ve all been on a rollercoaster of change throughout this pandemic.

“We’ve spoken to people who’ve never used Citizens Advice before, have never claimed benefits before and have had a steady income for years, if not decades. Suddenly, they feel if the rug has been pulled from under them and they don’t know what to do.

“We’re here to listen, support and then help them find a way forward, and it’s a reward to hear the relief in their voices at the end of the call.”

Alex added “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 been able to help 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 know people are going to need our help as we begin on the road to recovery, and we urge anyone that needs some support to get in touch as soon as possible.”

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