Bath Courts Saved

We were very pleased to hear that the law courts in North Parade are not now earmarked for closure, following public consultation. We contributed to  this consultation, which, like many of these things, seemed to be very “last minute”.  Our Research Team did a fantastic job of reading the consultation documents, which were hundreds of pages long, devising a questionnaire and surveying clients and members of the public to get their views, analysing the results and submitting our response to the consultation – all in one week! It is very encouraging to get such a positive outcome.

Of course, we can’t take all the credit! We know that the Bath MP, Ben Howlett, and his team also questioned the public and contributed, as many individuals probably did too.

Our conclusion is that it’s definitely worth putting in the effort to find out about the impact of public policy on people and put forward their views in a professional way. Local knowledge was valuable – the Ministry of Justice documents were very misleading on the distances and time it would take to travel between Bath and Bristol for court appearances, so we were able to provide detailed evidence of how wrong they were!

Thanks to the 100 people who answered our questions – you’ve helped to make a difference for everyone else in Bath and North East Somerset.

12 February 2016

Food Bank Action

Thank you Food Bank!

Our volunteers are often at the sharp end when people suffer because of the effects of benefit changes and unreliable employment.  People whose benefits have stopped or been delayed, or whose wages have not been paid in full, come to us for help to resolve those problems and sometimes tell us they don’t have enough money for food. We refer them to one of the local Food Banks with a voucher with which they can collect 3 days worth of food.

We are constantly grateful for this service so that our advisers can concentrate on helping sort out the problem which caused the lack of money, without worrying that their clients are going hungry. Our volunteers are caring people and have collected a variety of chocolates for the Food Bank staff to put into parcels for families with children for the festive season. We will continue to work with individuals who are affected by reductions in benefits and to use their stories to lobby for improvements for everyone.  Our Research team can be contacted on research@cab-banes.org

January 2016

Waiting for Credit Report

Waiting for Credit – report into how Universal Credit is working

In 2015 we did some research into how Universal Credit (UC) is experienced by the people who are claiming it.  We were particularly excited about this as it involved working with 15 other Citizens Advice offices in England and Wales which had all been pilot areas for the introduction of UC, including the digital service.  About one in ten of all Citizens Advice clients in England and Wales who had been given advice on UC were interviewed for the research, so quite a big sample which we were pleased about.

The research highlighted the serious difficulties our clients had experienced, having to wait at least 6 weeks for their first payment, and some of the administrative & structural problems which can cause further delays.  80% of those surveyed had problems managing to pay their rent and afford food, gas & electricity whilst they waited for their first payment.

We also found that, although UC has been designed for monthly payments (allegedly because workplaces pay monthly), fewer than half of our respondents had been paid monthly before claiming, so it really did not fit their budgeting patterns at all.

And ironically, because of the difficulties in having little or no income for a few weeks, many were not able to spend time or money looking for work.

We are very grateful to the Citizens Advice clients in Bath and North East Somerset who willingly answered our detailed questions and told us personal stories of hardship, frustration and the cost of getting through to UC on the phone.

It wasn’t all bad news however, and some people In Bath and North East Somerset felt supported by Job Centre Plus in their search for work, especially those with caring responsibilities.

The Report was launched at a special meeting in the Houses of Parliament, chaired by Baroness Tanni Gray-Thompson and attended by MPs, peers and researchers.  Sarah and Brian, 2 clients from Warrington, told their stories with dignity and at the end were invited to meet Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  Baroness Gray-Thompson and Baroness Lister also planned to meet with Lord Freud, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The Report makes 12 recommendations for improvement to the delivery of Universal Credit from having an 0800 phone number to having a fair way to calculate earnings.  “Waiting for Credit: the delivery of Universal Credit as experienced by Citizens Advice clients in England and Wales” can be accessed here Waiting For Credit.

If you’d like to tell us about your experiences or find out more about the research, please email us on research@cab-banes.org

January 2016

Heating or Eating – Fuel Poverty Report – June 2015

Please click here to view the report

Universal Credit – for all new claimants in Bath Job Centre area

What is Universal Credit?

It’s a benefit which combines 6 previous means tested benefits – Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment & Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

Means tested is when the amount you get is worked out according to other income or savings you may have.

It’s paid monthly (in most cases) and you receive your first payment 6 weeks after you claim.

This is a long time to wait so you can get something called an Advance Payment to tide you over.  This is gradually paid back by a reduction in what you get in your monthly payments.  You have to ask for an Advance Payment – it is not automatic.

Universal Credit has been paid to people in Bath Job Centre since 2014 and since May 2016 it is being paid to new claimants who are disabled or not well enough to work for the first time.  People claiming the old benefits will also move onto Universal Credit if their circumstances change.

In the old system of the 6 different benefits, some ill or disabled people got extra money called premiums to help with the costs of being ill long term.  This extra money does not exist in Universal Credit so many people will be much worse off. They tend to be the people who are unlikely to be able to increase their income by working because of their medical conditions.

We think this is unfair so are monitoring what is going on.  We are recording the drops in income people have and asking them about how they are managing.  We are working with other local Citizens Advice offices throughout the country to put our findings together and lobby the Government to try to make sure vulnerable people do not suffer under the new benefit system.

We have done this before – in 2015 we campaigned with other Citizens Advice local offices about the way Universal Credit is paid and how people are helped with their claims. It’s now possible to get it paid fortnightly or separate amounts to 2 people in a couple, and your rent can be paid directly to your landlord for a short time.

You have to claim digitally on a computer although if this is not possible you can do it by phone. We want to know how this is working.

Please help us make things better again! Tell us about your experience of claiming Universal Credit by emailing research@cab-banes.org or ringing our Research team on 01225 303824.

If you need advice with any aspect of your claim or you have been sanctioned please contact us – details are on the Home page.

2014

Proving our Value Report – February 2014

Please click here to view the report