With the growing number of residents who are experiencing financial hardship due to the Covid-19 crisis, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse is highlighting the need for support for Citizens Advice – Bath & North East Somerset.
The charity performs a unique frontline role as the only service providing free expert debt advice in the community.
Last month, Citizens Advice experienced a 78% increase in requests for help with benefits and Universal Credit claims compared to March 2019.
April is expected to show a similar rise as more people who never expected to be on benefits suddenly find themselves needing support, and there may be worse to come.
Richard Yates, Operations Manager at the charity, said: “We’re seeing a rapid change in the types of clients we’re receiving, with requests for advice coming from people who until now have been financially secure.
“Our organisation is anticipating a surge in calls when residents start struggling with money towards the end of the month.
“It’s going to get worse as a recession takes hold and people and families with large expenditures start slipping into debt.”
The charity is also reporting an increase in people asking for advice on pay and entitlement, fuel bills and bankruptcy.
While 100 trained volunteer advisers are keeping the service going from their homes, the organisation only has 3 debt specialists.
CEO of the charity, Les Redwood, stated: “Concerning debt and benefits, our FCA approval makes us a critical source of support for residents in the district.
“Unfortunately, we’re very low on trained debt caseworkers and there’s concern that we may not be able to help everyone.
“The consequences of debt are wide ranging, with people facing eviction, child custody battles, threats of legal action and severe mental health issues.
“We want to prevent poverty from decimating our communities, so we’re asking for financially robust businesses and individuals to help us to help others.”
The poverty gap in Bath was reported nationally in January when the charity set up a debt advice service in Twerton, an area that has been in the top 10% of the most disadvantaged areas in the UK.
With more people needing support as Covid-19 causes an economic downturn, residents in areas like Twerton may be pushed into an even worse situation as charitable support is stretched.
Wera Hobhouse MP said: “My office has received many emails and phone calls from local individuals who are experiencing first-hand the devastating financial impact of Covid-19.
“There is a clear link between debt and mental health and I am very concerned about the effect the crisis is having on the wellbeing of local residents.
“Citizens Advice provides an incredibly important service and their resources are being severely stretched.”
Those wishing to make a donation can do so through the charity’s LovalGiving page.