Life is becoming even more complicated. We all face problems that are intimidating and cause uncertainty and fear for what’s to come. At Citizens Advice Stevenage, we believe no one should face these problems alone. That’s why we’re here: to give people the knowledge and the confidence they need to find their way forward - whoever they are, and whatever their problem.
We provide confidential, independent quality accredited advice, via telephone, email, our website and face-to-face on a number of areas; such a debt and money, benefits, housing, employment, immigration, family and relationships, consumer issues, legal matters and health and community care. When we say we are for everyone, we mean it. Our incredible team of staff and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure that our clients get the advice they need, when they need it and people rely on us because we are impartial and trusted.
No one else sees so many people with so many different kinds of problems. On average, each person we see has 4 complex and interlocking issues, this gives us a unique insight into the challenges people are facing today. With the right evidence, we can show decision makes, from companies right up to central government, how they can make things better for people. We work holistically and always help someone as a whole rather than just solving the issue they come to us about, by helping people with the underlying cause of their problems, we make sure they don’t get worse and the person can start to move forward. By doing this our team has saved the government and public services millions of pounds every year.
Anyone can need Citizens Advice at any time in their life. We want all of our community to be able to access good quality advice, whenever they need it, knowing that there is someone to help them to get back on track.
We are consistently adapting to meet the needs of our community and actively reviewing trends, which gives us a unique opportunity to address key issues. We don’t just review the issues we see, we also review ourselves to make sure we remain relevant for our community. We launched our business strategy in 2019, addressing four key areas:
- Accessible – we will make it easier to access our service and increase digital provisions
- Collaborative – we will play out part to enrich the community offering by helping to join up the voluntary sector
- Nurturing – develop and care for our team so they are best placed to look after the community
- Proactive – well make sure we are always looking for new opportunities to make sure we are here for year to come
Our service provides advice to everyone to help them find a way forward, but some issues can be more complicated and may need specialist support. We provide specialist services in the areas of debt, welfare benefits, housing, representation at housing possession cases, family legal matters, representation at employment tribunals, gambling related harm support, plus guidance on pension options, claiming Universal Credit and advice at Family Centres. But we need to do more. We are always looking for new ways to evolve and adapt to ensure we are ahead of the curve.
In 2019/20, our team supported 9102 clients with over 31,000 issues, doubling over the last 5 years The team have put £2.4 million back into the pockets of our clients and cleared £462,070 in debts, alleviating stress and demand on other services. We also raised 451 individual case studies to demonstrate where clients have been treated unfairly or where particular policies and practices are failing society, and supported 13 of our volunteers into paid work, with five securing paid work within our own team.
Leanne is a very vulnerable woman. Her childhood had been very difficult; she suffered abuse which led to severe mental health difficulties that she was only just beginning to address when she came to us. She had lived with her mother until she passed away and since then she has lived alone with strong support from her family. Leanne has a part time job in a nursery, which had made reasonable adjustments based on her health and without this support Leanne would not be able to remain in employment. Leanne did have a high level of difficulties and was in receipt of Council Tax Reduction based on a person with severe disability living alone. However, she came to us after she had applied for Personal Independence Payments and was awarded 0 points.
Our advisor John spoke to Leanne at length and she admits she underplays the amount of support she needs and does not fully understand or accept the impact her mental health and learning difficulties have on her ability to live independently. The fact that she was able to maintain employment was taken in the original decision as evidence that she was able to manage independently, but the adaptions they had put in place were not. Leanne needed help to appeal the decision and was referred to our caseworker Judy who prepared a written submission to HMCTS. There was limited medical evidence available to support Leanne’s appeal, as she is reluctant to engage with support services. In the submission, we were able to provide detailed evidence of the extent to which her employment was only possible because of the interventions of her work coach and family.
With the support of our Caseworker, we were able to support Leanne to appeal the decision and revised decision resulting in the award of the standard rate component for both Daily Living and Mobility. She had a backdated payment of over £4000 and an ongoing annual award of over £4000 per year. Through this process, Leanne began to accept the extent of her difficulties. She agreed to accept the help social care had offered and talked about beginning counselling to address issues related to childhood abuse. Not only was Leanne more financially stable she was now starting to increase her mental wellbeing.
Projections show that the effects of the pandemic will be felt for more than 2 years and that demand for advice is predicted to increase by over 60%. We need to do more now and ensure our residents continue to have a place to turn when life throws them a curveball. Financial pressures are felt across the whole of the voluntary sector, but the demand for services such as ours has only increased. We are seeking additional funding to ensure our service can be here for longer.
You can support our charity by donating here or you can get in touch with us via our website for more information. Your donation will make a difference and enable us to continue to offer life changing advice for those that feel all hope is lost. We’re here for everyone.
Our aims are clear; we are here to provide good quality advice and to campaign for change, giving people a voice when they don’t feel heard. But we need your support.