Uckfield Citizens Advice (CA) helps people in crisis.
When they have no-one to turn to and nowhere else to go, the expert volunteers are the safety net, writes Paul Watson.
Yesterday’s story in this six-day series showed just how many Uckfield people were helped in 2018.
It is their skills which change people’s lives for the better.
And, the Citizens Advice does not charge its clients a penny. Yes, the services are FREE.
The complexity of some issues, particularly around benefits, means that some people receive on going support for more than a year.
Kay Birch, Chief Executive of Wealden Citizens Advice, told this website: “As the pressure on statutory services and budgets continues, we are increasingly becoming a service of last resort.
“We are supporting a number of very vulnerable clients on a regular basis who need ongoing support to manage their day to day lives and finances.
“A high percentage of these clients have mental health issues and we are currently investing in more specialist training for our advisers on how best to support these clients.
“We authorise food and fuel vouchers for those in need and can also help clients access free initial legal advice sessions with local solicitors to help them decide on a way forward, this can include in cases of relationship breakdown.
“Our advisers have been trained in how to identify and support victims of domestic abuse and also in the reporting of hate crime.
‘Someone who can’
“Overall, we aim to help everyone about anything.
“If we can’t help, we can usually find someone who can.”
That level of help comes from volunteers (unpaid) who put in a huge commitment, both in terms of time given and training undertaken to ensure they are up-to-date with latest changes to government legislation.
All the volunteers at Uckfield do at least one day a week (that’s seven hours as minimum). Some will do two, three days or even more.
They are led at Uckfield by a paid manager, Martha Mayes.
Kay Birch said: “The commitment of our volunteers is absolutely amazing.
“There are other volunteers in the background. They are completely brilliant.”
Here’s a list (not necessarily exhaustive) as to the services provided by Uckfield Citizens Advice.
This is the largest area of work for the staff, based The Hub, off Civic Approach. It includes:
- Benefit checks to see what benefits a client might be entitled to.
- Assisted digital support for people to make and maintain online claims, especially for universal credit.
- Helping clients complete benefit application forms, especially for sickness and disability benefits where the forms are particularly long and complex. There are volunteers who specialise in helping clients with sickness and disability benefits.
- Supporting clients whose benefits have been stopped/reduced or where they are receiving a lower rate than appears correct given their circumstances.
- Help can also be given to clients seeking a mandatory reconsideration of their benefits (the first stage in any appeal process) and prepare for a full appeal of their benefits. This can involve long-term support.
It is not uncommon for the appeal process to take over a year.
Department for Work and Pensions staff from local job centres run weekly outreach sessions, using Wealden DC and CA offices.
Expert money advice casework is regulated by Financial Conduct Authority.
Support is given to clients facing court and enforcement action – threatened eviction, bailiffs. Wealden CA has three advisers authorised to submit applications for debt relief orders (aimed at those with little or no money) to service, one of whom is based at Uckfield. The advisers can also support clients considering bankruptcy.
Personal budgeting support to help clients manage on a low income, particularly for those moving from weekly benefits to monthly payments under universal credit.
Where there is demand it has run group managing-your-money sessions.
Onsite appointments can be offered under the government supported Pensionwise scheme, which provides information on pensions options for those coming up to retirement.
The possibility of adding sessions is being explored that would help people on what to look for when seeking independent financial advice on their savings.
The CA can help on a whole range of employment issues, including helping clients prepare for employment tribunals – where they are pursuing a claim for unfair dismissal.
Advisers help people who are homeless and seek to prevent homelessness where this is threatened – working in partnership with the Wealden DC housing options team.
This can include helping people:
- get support/a safe place to go when faced with domestic abuse;
- defend court proceedings for possession or eviction;
- and/or helping them to reorganise their finances so they can manage their essential rent/mortgage.
Every year a Warm in Wealden scheme is run.
The aim is to identify and help those at risk of living in a cold home, which is a major contributor to excess winter deaths.
This includes running pop-up energy advice shops at supermarkets and at community groups.
This year the service is also running the Winter Home Check Service for East Sussex County Council together with East Sussex Citizens Advice colleagues and energy efficiency company RetrofitWorks.
The Warm Home Check service offers advice to anyone who struggles to afford to keep warm at home. It also provides eligible vulnerable households with a holistic home assessment. This can include:
- Advice on how best to keep their home warm/reduce energy costs
- Advice on financial support available to help with heating costs
- Minor home improvement measures such as improving pipe insulation, draught-proofing, boiler service.
Subject to funding being available, the service can also coordinate and source funding for the installation of heating and insulation measures available through schemes such as the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO).
An emergency temporary heating scheme is also available.
Find local organisations in our Uckfield Directory