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Author Archives: Oliver Domleo

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Fix Universal Credit or risk irreparable Covid scarring, says Citizens Advice

Category : Benefits

Fix Universal Credit or risk irreparable Covid scarring - About Manchester

Friday 11 June 2021

  • Charity sounds alarm over Universal Credit rules which aren’t ‘fit for real life’

  • New figures show 360,000 who lost jobs when pandemic struck still out of work

  • Young people, disabled people and single parents facing ‘uphill struggle’ in labour market

Urgent changes to Universal Credit are needed to stop those most impacted by the pandemic being left behind as the economy recovers, according to a new report from Citizens Advice.

The charity warns that inappropriate or stressful job-seeking requirements, a lack of support with upfront childcare costs and rigid benefit rules for disabled people are all barriers that can prevent people entering the labour market.

An estimated 360,000 people – equivalent to the population of Nottingham – who lost their jobs in March or April 2020 are still unemployed a year on. A further 2.4 million people on Universal Credit are still looking for work, with four job-seeking claimants for every vacancy.

Citizens Advice warns groups already at a disadvantage when job-hunting have been hardest hit in the pandemic, risking an unequal recovery and long-term economic scarring:

  • Under 25s were five times more likely to lose their job in the first lockdown than the rest of the working population. In total, more than 200,000 young people have been out of work for six months or more

  • Over one in three unemployed disabled people have now been looking for a job for more than a year, compared to one in seven non-disabled people

  • One in three unemployed single parents have been looking for work for over a year, compared to one in five working age adults

The charity’s frontline advisers have seen hundreds of cases where the rules in Universal Credit are making it harder for people to find work. These include a parent considering an expensive loan to meet the upfront costs of a nursery place so they can work because Universal Credit will only reimburse the fees retrospectively. Another staff member supported a domestic abuse survivor who spent up to 40 hours-a-week job hunting after pressure from their work coach, despite suffering acute distress and anxiety.

While vacancies are picking up in some sectors, the charity’s research found around two in three (62%) unemployed people on Universal Credit say they were not confident of finding work in the next six months. Nearly nine in 10 (88%) Universal Credit claimants said their financial situation is having a negative impact on their mental health.

Citizens Advice says it fears a ‘K-shaped’ recovery, with some rebounding quickly, while others struggle to find work. It cites particular concerns over long-term unemployment, now growing at the fastest rate since 2010.

‘A one-size fits all approach just doesn’t work’

Kat Kryvokhat’ko-Furlong, an adviser at Citizens Advice Southwark, said:

“The longer you’re out of work, the harder it is to get back in. After a while people can lose confidence. They get ground down from being asked to apply for jobs that aren’t suitable and it leaves them feeling really hopeless.

“It’s particularly a struggle for people with a gap in skills or who may need flexibility because they’re disabled or have children to care for. A one-size fits all approach when it comes to job-seeking just doesn’t work.”

Rules fit for real life

Citizens Advice has supported more than 450,000 people with one-to-one advice on Universal Credit since March last year. With the highest-ever number of people on Universal Credit looking for work, the charity is calling for changes to ensure the rules set out by DWP are fit for real life.

This includes greater flexibility from DWP work coaches to ensure that people aren’t given unsuitable job-seeking requirements that could result in them cycling in and out of insecure work or being sanctioned.

The charity is also calling for the government to remove barriers faced by disabled people and parents by providing childcare costs upfront and reviewing eligibility rules for disability work allowances.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“This has been an unequal crisis and we now face an unequal recovery, with those hardest hit by the pandemic facing an uphill struggle to find work.

“As the economy reopens, the government has a crucial opportunity to prevent irreparable scarring from this crisis.

“Key to this will be making sure the rules in Universal Credit are fit for real life. That means supporting people into work, not pushing them into unsuitable jobs or adding to their stress and worry with the threat of sanctions.”


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CAB News 11 June 2021

Citizens Advice's annual income tops £100m following universal credit service launch

Friday 11 June 2021

Our call for vital changes to Universal Credit has achieved some great coverage.

National

Universal Credit

Universal Credit rules not ”fit for real life” – DWP urged to stop ”irreparable scarring”

Independent (£)SunExpressWalesOnline10/06/2021

Citizens Advice has warned urgent changes are needed to “stop those most impacted by the pandemic being left behind as the economy recovers”.

Clare Moriarty was featured in this morning’s Red Box (££) saying “a few common-sense changes could make a difference.” Clare lists making “sure job-seeking requirements are suitable, particularly for disabled people and those with caring responsibilities.” and “Providing childcare costs upfront and increase the number of people eligible for disability work allowances” as ways to achieve this.

Keep an eye out as Policy Manager Minesh Patel’s interview on the subject with Sky News will be running throughout the day.

Consumer

Charity warns 2.5 million homes got into debt on broadband bills during pandemic

BBCExpress, 04/06/2021

Our research into the number of people in broadband arrears was picked up in a number of outlets.

Matt Upton was interviewed on LBC news (2 hours 34 minutes 30 seconds in). He explained that 700,000 people have fallen into the red on broadband bills during Covid. He advised that those struggling with their bills should talk to their provider to make sure they’re on the best tariff for their needs.

Regional

Energy

Helping young people manage their energy bills

BBC Radio Manchester, 08/06/2021, 08:50:58

Rosi Avis from Citizens Advice Manchester chats to BBC Radio Manchester about a new service they’ve launched to help young people who are “finding their feet”. Rosi explains the service provides a workshop for 16-25 year olds to help them with budgeting and explain how they can understand and save on their energy bills.

EU Settled Status

Local Citizens Advice urge EU citizens to apply for settled status by 30 June

Rochdale Online, Oldham Chronicle, 05/06/2021

Citizens Advice Rochdale and Citizens Advice Oldham are provided support for those needing to applying for settled status.

Steve Hughes said: “We are finding that in some cases, people simply aren’t aware that they need to apply, and that by missing the upcoming deadline they could lose the right to live and work in the UK.

“We encourage those who have not yet applied for settled or pre-settled status to do so as soon as possible, to allow time to complete the application and gather any evidence you may need.”


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CAB News 04 June 2021

Friday 04 June 2021

Citizens Advice has appeared in stories covering a range of issues over the past week, including new plans from Ofgem to protect microbusinesses, the approaching deadline to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme and the increase in unemployment in rural areas.

National

Energy

‘Unscrupulous’ UK energy brokers will have to disclose commission fees

The Guardian, 01/06/2021, Jillian Ambrose

The UK energy regulator, Ofgem, will force energy brokers to come clean about the true cost of their deals by revealing their hidden commission fees to help protect more than a million microbusinesses from being ripped off. Gillian Cooper, our Head of Energy Policy, welcomed the move as a step forward in tackling bad practice, but warned that many microbusinesses still risk being subject to harsh debt recovery practices or losing money if their supplier fails. She said: “It’s vital that Ofgem and suppliers continue to improve support for those who are struggling with their bills, and work with microbusinesses to minimise the risk of disconnection.”

Our press release can be found here.

Debt

Payment plan will help ease bills pain

The Sun, 02/06/2021 p.7, Lorraine Charlton

Our Debt Expert, Lorraine Charlton, offered advice in The Sun about what to do and how to access support if you’re in debt. The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge effect on millions of people’s finances and many will be behind on essential payments. Lorraine’s advice includes working out what debts need to be prioritised, agreeing repayment plans with creditors and creating a budget.

Consumer

UK financial watchdog ends ‘loyalty penalty’ for insurance renewals

Financial Times (£), 28/05/2021, Ian Smith

VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Customers must keep driving hard bargains on insurance | This is Money

The UK’s financial watchdog has confirmed it will abolish the so-called “loyalty penalty” on consumers renewing their home or motor insurance policies.

The move follows a long-running campaign by Citizens Advice, reported the Financial Times. It quoted our Director of Policy Matt Upton as saying this was the first “really strong action” by a regulator to address this problem.

In the paper Matt contrasted it with other costly products, such as mortgages, where consumers are still defaulting to much higher borrowing costs on the so-called standard variable rate.

Our fight against the loyalty penalty made the front page of the Daily Express. The paper also ran a comment piece by Director of Policy Matt Upton in which he said:

“At the heart of [the problem with the loyalty penalty] are people who are paying over the odds – often because they’re older, on low incomes or unable to access the internet.”

“If you’re paying a loyalty penalty in insurance, there’s a fair chance you’re overpaying for broadband or mortgage too.

“The FCA has set a high bar and we need tough action. For us, and loyal customers, these full and final fixes cannot come soon enough.”

Matt also appeared on the the BBC’s One O’Clock News and the Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours (about 2 mins in) on Friday.

He welcomed the FCA’s “strong action”, which hopefully will “stamp out” the loyalty penalty in the insurance market. but he added that other markets, such as broadband and mortgages, the FCA has not taken similar measures and customers were still paying for their loyalty.

The Citizens Advice campaign against the loyalty penalty was also mention on news bulletins on BBC Radio 2, Radio 4  and 5Live throughout the day. And we featured in a raft of other fleet street papers, including The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, the i paper, the Times, Daily Mail and the Evening Standard

Our full statement can be found here.

Housing

Housing issues surge as end of the eviction ban nears

Various

The ban on bailiff enforced evictions came to an end on bank holiday Monday. Our calls for a reform of the private rental sector, and our advice for people affected by the end of the ban, featured in the national and regional press and media.

Citizens Advice Director of Policy, Matt Upton, spoke to LBC and Director of External Affairs, Katie Martin, spoke to Times Radio and Talk Radio. Katie said: “We’re worried more landlords are going to enforce evictions on the notices they’ve served and so many more people will lose their homes, and many of them may well end up homeless.”

Our figures on rental arrears were used by the national BBC News bulletins and on the news channel. and our advice featured the Mirror and the Sun.  The story was also covered in various regional papers including the Yorkshire Post and on a number of financial website such as Your Mortgage.

On BBC Radio Manchester chief officer of Citizens Advice Salford, Tom Togher said increasing numbers of private tenants are having difficulty keeping up with rent payments.

The full press release can be found here.