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The Independent UK
The Independent UK

In hard times, we’re giving advice – and help – to UK citizens where it’s needed most


Hillingdon CAB is a Business Reporter client.

1939 was one of the most significant years in the history of the modern world. The onset of the Second World War changed life across the planet; out of the horrors of that period came a new sense of community and togetherness. In the UK, one of the results of this was the establishment of the NHS.

Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis for positive change to happen. The world is beset with crises: Covid-19 caused an unprecedented situation for most people alive today, only for them to emerge into a worldwide cost-of-living crisis, international wars and the various human rights issues they have created.

1939 was also the year that the UK’s first 200 Citizens Advice bureaux were opened, offices run by volunteers to help their communities – in the years following, the priorities included dealing with loss of ration books, evacuation and helping locate missing relatives and prisoners of war. Citizens Advice still exists today, and although the problems may have changed, the principles have remained the same.

In 2023, Hillingdon Citizens Advice continues the work to help the people of our community along with over 250 other bureaux around the country. We have modernised our ways of working but underlying that is the same basic idea of giving good advice to people.

Doing this isn’t always straightforward. Our team need the knowledge and skills to help people effectively, and although we have volunteers, we also rely on paid staff with expertise. This requires the money and resources to train and pay that staff, and ensure they have everything they need to help residents of the London Borough of Hillingdon. It’s not just about dispensing some friendly advice. Our team help people navigate complex systems of bureaucracy, support them to complete benefits applications, gain legal aid, process immigration problems and access the funds and resources they need to survive and thrive.

Although the council and government help fund us, we are not part of them but are an impartial charity, here to help the people of Hillingdon with their problems. It’s incredibly important that we help people before a crisis hits them, wherever possible. If you are worried, come to your local CAB, wherever you live.

Some of the work we do takes months, even years to help someone solve an issue. Typically, a person or family with one issue is likely to have more. If you are accessing a foodbank, for example, you are likely also in debt and probably need welfare support, a situation that often leads to family breakdown and poor mental health.

We are seeing more people than ever access benefits and foodbanks. But our work isn’t just about helping you fill out a benefit claim form – it’s about ensuring a sense of wellbeing and quality of life.

As a London Borough, Hillingdon faces its own unique problems. It’s a geographically large area with a large and widely spread population. It has pockets of deprivation as bad as anywhere else. To help anyone who may need us, we need to spread ourselves thin. Hillingdon has over 400 charities, most of which are underfunded, and the borough itself is starved of corporate charitable funding, a situation we would like to change.

Millions of Britons have been hit hard with levels of inflation not seen since the 1970s, in the aftermath of Covid, Brexit, a punishing economic policy and the war in Ukraine. Poorer households have borne the brunt as they spend a larger proportion of their income on energy, the cost of which has soared.

A modelling study published in BMJ Public Health suggests the UK cost of living crisis will cause thousands of premature deaths, with that statistic set to rise to 6.5 per cent this year – 30 extra deaths per 100,000 people. In addition, the UK is set to experience a significant widening of the wealth and health gap between the richest and poorest in society.

It’s when life is difficult that we are here to help. Our work doesn’t end, and we always need support from new funders and volunteers from our community.

Living on Empty: a policy report from Citizens Advice

By Morgan Wild, Head of Policy, Citizens Advice

The number of households across the country whose monthly income isn’t enough to pay for their essentials has more than doubled in the past two years, from one in 20 to one in 10.

Before the cost-of-living crisis, the average client with debt had £33 left after paying for essential costs each month – now they have an average shortfall of £36 per month.

Because negative budget data gives us detailed, real-time insight into people’s finances, we can understand how policy changes might impact them. And if any government wants to claim success in addressing living standards, it needs to move the dial on negative budgets.

Our advisors help half of debt clients who have negative budgets. Our poorest 25 per cent of debt clients have monthly essential outgoings that significantly exceed their income – on average, they’re £120 short each month of what they need. That’s an average deficit of more than £1,400 every year.

One of our expert advisers, Stephen, helped Linda to recover from this spiral of debt, a process that took many months and help from other team members.

Linda*, 44, a single mother of two young children, was unable to work, partly because of her own long-term health conditions, but primarily because one of her daughters is disabled and requires a lot of care. Linda explained to our advisor that she was subject to a benefit cap and found herself losing £260 a month from her Universal Credit award. A further £50 per month was taken off for Housing Benefit and Tax Credit deductions.

Linda was forced to survive on £1,700 per month, £1,200 of which would go on rent. She was in crisis, unable to afford everyday essentials or higher energy bills. She relied on foodbank vouchers, and we would issue one after every appointment we had with her. Over six months of case work and follow-up appointments, we successfully negotiated reduced deductions with our Debt Management Team.

We helped Linda to get the right benefits and get those benefits backdated – today, her and her family’s quality of life has improved greatly.

Linda’s financial gains

• £40 per month in reduced repayments for previous benefits

• Backdated amounts (for Carers Element, Child Disability Element, removal of benefit cap): £2,920.91

• Universal Credit increased from £1,715.62 to £2,525.66, an ongoing gain of £810.04 per month

• Child DLA: £547.52 per month

• Total ongoing increase from both UC and Child DLA: £1,357.56 per month

• Total financial gain (over 12 months): £19,691.60

*The names of our beneficiaries have been changed in order to protect their identities

More citizens Advice data/ articles can be accessed here We are Citizens Advice. 

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