Citizens Advice Cornwall has helped more than 19,000 people with 46,000 issues from problems with benefits to debt and from housing to discrimination according to new statistics revealed by the charity today in its annual report for 2017-18.
The organisation’s dedicated team of advisers, working from eight offices and outreach centres from Saltash to the Isles of Scilly helped people gain £3.6 million in income they were entitled to and write-off debt worth £5.1 million.
Launching the report, CA Cornwall chair of trustees, Gill Pipkin, said:
“Citizens Advice continues to provide a crucial service to all the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly free of charge through our dedicated network of volunteers and staff.
“Demand for our advice continues at a very high level, broadly in line with the last two years.
“Despite concerns about funding earlier in the year, we are now on course with our plan to provide more outreach services and to improve our accessibility to clients with the use of new technology.
“As ever, I would like to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of our 160 volunteers, who between them contributed 29,000 hours of service worth £216,000 and to Sue Swift, my predecessor as chair of trustees, who helped navigate the organisation through our financial negotiations with Cornwall Council.”
Most people came to CA Cornwall about debt issues (37%), followed by benefits and tax credits (28%), financial services (9%), housing (5%), employment (4%) and relationships and family (also 4%).
Main debt arrears in 2017-18 were credit cards (£2.1m), unsecured loans (£1.8m), benefits overpayments (£481k), overdrafts (£375k), water bills (£363k), council tax (£332k) and mortgage arrears (£318k).
The main benefits issues were Personal Independence Payments, followed by Employment Support Allowance and Tax Credits. The period covered by the report does not include the full implementation of Universal Credit in Cornwall.
Gill Pipkin added:
“Continued financial support from our funders, such as Cornwall Council, the Government’s Money Advice Service and the Macmillan cancer charity, has helped us deliver an excellent set of results, with 90% of the people we see happy or very happy with the information they receive and 94% saying they would recommend Citizens Advice to others.”
In addition to the general advice service, Citizens Advice Cornwall also provided information for parents through Cornwall’s children’s centres; for cancer patients and their families through Macmillan cancer care and for people facing problems with debt through the Government’s Money Advice Service.
The charity has also held successful campaigns on reform of Universal Credit, scams awareness and subscription traps.
Peter and Frieda – a married couple – came in for debt advice from CA’s Money Advice Service, having seen our general advisers about a benefits check.
Both were in their 70s and Peter had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. They had both remained working full-time due to their debts and were paying more than £1,000 to creditors every month.
This was unsustainable and was affecting their health. They met the criteria for a Debt Relief Order which meant they could, at last, retire.
Without debts they could live within their means without taking out credit. Both were very tearful knowing they could now stop working and no longer fear bailiffs turning up at the door.
The couple each had savings of £600 which does not exceed the asset limit for DROs. They decided to use the money to visit family, which they had been unable to do because of lack of funds.
It is unclear if Peter’s lung cancer is terminal but they believe it may be, so they regard every day they have together as precious.