What challenges have we faced?
Operationally, Citizens Advice – Bath & North East Somerset has had to deal with 2 sizeable challenges resulting from Covid-19. The first was moving a largely face-to-face service that helps 8,000 people annually to remote working. The second was dealing with increasing requests for help from residents.
In March, the charity experienced a 78% increase in clients requesting help with benefits compared to March 2019. Previously financial stable residents are now struggling and the charity has seen an increase in first-time benefit clients.
Fiona, a debt specialist and supervisor at the charity said: “We are seeing a huge increase in contacts from clients who have lost their income or are waiting for money through one of the income protection schemes, and these people are getting into debt. Lots of these people have never been in this situation before, and are experiencing life on means-tested benefits for the first time.”
The increasing calls for support illustrate people’s suffering, but our staff and volunteers have stepped up and are providing support whenever its asked for.
How are we meeting the challenges?
In response to the impact of Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown, the charity has used communication, technology and co-operation to sustain their service:
- Moving over 100 staff and volunteers to remote working.
- Creating a Covid-19 FAQ page tailored for clients and beginning a Marketing campaign to notify clients of the page and changes to the service.
- Partnering with other charities, Virgin Care, the Council and BANES 3SG to launch a call centre to ensure clients are helped efficiently and being directed to the most appropriate organisation for their circumstances.
Using technology to ensuring communication and support
The charity’s IT department delivered excellent work, switching all staff and volunteers to remote working within 2 days of the lockdown being declared.
Paul, the Head of IT said: “One of the keys to keeping our organisation running was to ensure good communication was maintained. So we signed everyone up to Microsoft Teams. This enabled us to rapidly provide IT support and help our staff and volunteers adjust to working remotely.”
“We also established a new process and system for triaging calls to enable advisers to receive calls at home, while maintaining strict confidentiality and GDPR standards and an open line of communication to supervisors”
Communicating to residents
The charity immediately implemented a Covid-19 FAQ page with up-to-date information relevant to local residents and began a Marketing campaign to notify residents of changes to their service.
Using co-operation to enhancing the delivery of our service
One of the biggest steps the service has taken is to join up with VirginCare, the local council, BANES3SG, the CCG and other charities to provide a Covid-19 response centre in Peasedown St John. In its first 6 weeks of operation, the hub responded to 4000 calls for support.
The main objective of the call centre is to offer an efficient and holistic support service to anyone struggling during the pandemic and afterwards, especially where they are vulnerable or unable to get support from friends or relatives.
This includes anyone dealing with concerns over food supply, welfare, wellbeing, debts, mental health and family matters. So, if you are a resident of Bath and North East Somerset and in need of support, do not hesitate to dial the helpline 0300 247 0050
What results have we experienced?
These steps have enabled Citizens Advice – Bath & North East Somerset to continue providing its normal service, supporting residents with debt, benefits, employment, housing consumer rights, and family and relationship issues.
Clients are being helped from the comfort of volunteer advisers’ own homes and the hub has enabled over 4000 requests for support to be answered.
The biggest challenge may be yet to come. The charity is preparing for an impending surge in clients with debt issues once lockdown restrictions on evictions and repossession are lifted. Jenny, a debt specialist, came on board in April, but there is concern that with ‘the biggest ever recession’ on the way, more debt specialists will be required if the charity is going to meet demands.
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