Everyone needs good advice, whoever you are.

Citizens Advice Stevenage helps people get clued up on spotting scams
Citizens Advice Stevenage are holding an event in the town centre on Friday 15th June to help people know when they’ve been targeted with a scam and how they can report it.

The event is part of Scams Awareness Month, a national campaign encouraging people to report and talk about scams. It comes as Citizens Advice has seen a rise in cases reported in the year ending April 2018.

Action Fraud referred 1,073 crimes to police forces in Hertfordshire between April 2016 – March 2017. The top frauds involved plastic card, online bank accounts and online shopping with the top enablers being phones, emails and online sales.

Citizens Advice Stevenage are running an event to empower people so they “Don’t miss a trick” and are aware of the types of scams in the local area. You can visit them on Friday 15th June next to the fountain in Stevenage Town Centre between 10am – 2pm.

Attendees will be encouraged to watch out for scammers and report them to the police to try and get their money back and help stop others being targeted.

Top Tips
  • Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name you recognise.
  • Don’t be rushed – you never need to make a decision straight away.
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
  • Never send money to someone you have never met.
  • Never give out your bank details unless you are certain you can trust the person contacting you.
  • Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance.
  • Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer.
  • Suspect a scam? Hang up, wait give minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call.

  • Visit the Citizens Advice Stevenage website for advice.
  • Call Citizens Advice Stevenage on 03444 111 444.
  • Report scams to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or @actionfrauduk on Twitter.
  • Tell friends, family and neighbours about scams.
  • Get involved in the conversation using the #scamaware hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.
Citizens Advice Stevenage thanks volunteers for making huge difference to people's lives
Citizens Advice Stevenage is celebrating its volunteers who dedicate their time to solving people’s problems and making a difference to their lives.Volunteers Week, which runs from 1-7 June, is themed volunteering for all and the charity wants to highlight the work of its team, which helps people in the community struggling with debt, housing, benefit and employment issues among other issues.

Almost 80 volunteers at Stevenage Citizens Advice give up 330 each week and last year helped more than 5500 people with more than 29,000 problems.The charity’s volunteers have played a crucial role ensuring people in Stevenage get the advice and support they need to get on with their lives.Citizens Advice offers a wide range of voluntary roles including fundraising, advisers, administrators and trustees.

Ryann Hansen, started volunteering at Citizens Advice Stevenage while he was studying at university. He said: “I really feel like my role makes a difference, by helping people sort out problems that have been holding them back and the skills I’ve learned have really helped me develop confidence for my own career prospects.”

Nina Villa, Chief Executive Officer at Citizens Advice Stevenage said: “Our fantastic volunteers make a huge difference to people’s lives. They give up their free time to help people in their community, who may be going through problems, to get back on their feet. Volunteering is for everybody and it brings its own rewards. It’s a great way to meet people and learn skills. If you’d like to help people in your area and can spare a few hours, we’d love to hear from you.”

Nationally, 23,000 Citizens Advice volunteers help provide support in 2,900 locations across England and Wales - helping 2.7 million people every year.

Thanks to the contribution volunteers play in local Citizens Advice, 2 out of every 3 clients have their problem solved and 4 out of 5 say the advice received improved their lives. If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering with Citizens Advice Stevenage get in touch on 01438 344238 and leave a message for Stacey or visit our website www.stevenagecab.org.uk/joinus
Citizens Advice Stevenage recruits new Chief Executive
Citizens Advice Stevenage are pleased to announce the appointment of Nina Villa to the position of Chief Executive Officer.

After completing her legal studies, Nina started her career as a medic with London Ambulance Service before moving in to various senior local government roles within Hertfordshire. In addition to her most recent role as Deputy Chief Executive at the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner, she also spent many years as a Royal Navy Reservist and has held various voluntary roles. She brings with her significant Board level experience in a variety of organisations. Nina says “I am delighted to be joining such a fantastic team of trustees, staff and volunteers. I look forward to helping them build on the strong foundations left by the previous CEO and to continue to develop our invaluable service. Citizens Advice Stevenage has ambitious plans to grow and develop our advice service to the Stevenage community despite facing a challenging funding environment and I am delighted to be able to be part of delivering those ambitions”.

Of the appointment, Chair of Trustee Board, Richard Westergreen-Thorne commented, “We are delighted to welcome Nina to Citizens Advice Stevenage, who brings with her a great amount of experience and expertise to help us continue to move the organisation forward. Nina has a strong track record and we look forward to working with her to execute our ambitious business strategy.”

Citizens Advice Stevenage is an independent charity supported predominantly by Stevenage Borough Council and by securing community support contracts. It provides advice and education to solve individuals’ problems. It helps people find a way forward, and develops the skills to prevent a similar scenario arising again. It also champions research and campaigns using data to understand the impact of policy and regulation- then campaigns for policy change to solve collective problems. Their services are delivered through the 79 volunteers, and 23 paid staff.

To contact them for advice, or to volunteer, get in touch on 03444 111444 or visit the website, www.stevenagecab.org.uk for further information
Citizens Advice Stevenage Debt Project featured in Comet Article
The last day of January will be the busiest day of the year for people seeking help with their debts, predicts Citizens Advice Stevenage.

Analysis of data from the past twelve months shows that on 31st January 2017, Citizens Advice helped 2,800 people across the UK - 30% above the daily average. This means that one person sought help from Citizens Advice every ten seconds!

Locally, Citizens Advice Stevenage, an independent charity based in the town centre, has seen an increase during the month of January, but demand for money advice is always high throughout the year.

Citizens Advice is a highly respected charity offering advice on a wide range of issues, such as consumer problems, housing, employment, relationship, welfare benefits and of course debt. Those with money problems are referred to the ‘Get out of debt, stay out of debt’ project funded by Comic Relief which is run by two specialist debt advisers, Mascha Collier and Clare Wilson, and 5 debt volunteer advisers.

“The project is very successful”, says Andy Rice, recently appointed CEO. “In the first 18 months of the project we helped 405 clients. We increased their income by nearly £100,000 and helped write off debts of more than £325,000. ” Debts can be tackled in a variety of ways: through bankruptcies or Debt Relief Orders (a lighter form of bankruptcy for those on low income with debts of less than £20,000) for clients with no spare income; or via debt management plans or Individual Voluntary Arrangements for those who do have some money spare.

“The post Christmas spending hangover is of course a factor this time of year”, Mascha says. “Families spent too much over the festive season and now the credit card statements are hitting the doormat.”

However, for many households the financial problems run much deeper. Usually there is a crisis that causes a family to fall behind on payments. Common triggers are the loss of a job,  illness or a relationship breakdown. Domestic abuse is also a frequent factor.

“Being in debt can be embarrassing and very stressful”, says Clare. “Clients often struggle on for five or more years sinking further into debt before finally seeking help. The final straw is often when the landlord threatens with eviction or the bailiffs are sent round to collect council tax. Not everybody realises that enforcement agents are allowed to add charges to a bill, which can add hundreds of pounds to a debt”.

The link between long-term debt and mental health is well documented. At Citizens Advice, the project is confronted daily with the impact of problem debt. “Clients are weighed down by the burden of debt for years. Often they can’t see a way out and are totally overwhelmed. The most common reaction is to bury heads in the sand and hope the debt will go away”. This of course rarely happens. Instead, those in debt are subjected to constant demands for money, via daily phone calls, text messages and many letters, adding to the stress of being in debt- 4 in 5 clients say that our advice “improved my life”; 70% said they felt “less stressed”.

One in four of Citizens Advice Stevenage’s clients is in full-time employment, but 47% have an income of less than £600.  And 39% report a disability or long-term health problem. 77% of clients say that they could not have solved their problem without our help.

Any debt can be problem, even if the amount is relatively low”, explains Mascha. “Most clients have debts of at least £2,500, but more commonly between £5,000 and £20,000. The highest amount we have dealt with to date was £115,000 of debt, run up by a client with a young family who for years tried to keep his unsuccessful business afloat by borrowing on credit cards. We helped him apply for bankruptcy.”

Clare adds: “A few years ago it was all credit card and payday loan debts. Now we see clients who are in low-paid employment and who are struggling to pay essential bills, such as rent, council tax, food, gas and electricity. We regularly send clients to the foodbank to help them survive.”

Take Helen* for example. An abusive partner forced her to take out multiple credit cards and used them to spend in her name. By the time the relationship ended, she had debts of more than £40,000. For nearly 15 years she tried to pay back this huge debt out of her modest wages. When she left work and could no longer afford the repayments, creditors responded with an onslaught of phone calls and letters demanding payment. The pressure led her to become clinically depressed and reclusive. She barely left the house and avoided speaking to people. Eventually she sought our help. It took many hours of work but Citizens Advice persuaded a number of creditors to write off the debts. Once the total debt dropped below £20,000, we were able to apply for a Debt Relief Order.  Although Helen is still battling mental health issues, resolving her debt problems has made a big difference: “I have some hope for the future again thanks to the help that Citizens Advice gave me. They’ve been absolutely brilliant.”  

Citizens Advice Stevenage drop-in service runs Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 10am till 3:30pm.

To offer the breadth and depth of advice that they do, Citizens Advice relies on an group of dedicated and passionate volunteers. As austerity bites ever harder, demand on their services is increasing. They are therefore looking for more volunteers to come forwards to be trained as advisors, to help on reception, or simply to fundraise.

If you’re interested, please visit www.stevenagecab.org.uk

Or call 01438 722126

*Name changed for purposes of confidentiality

Article Credit: Mascha Collier