Alison Dunn, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gateshead, reports on the changing picture of the nation's concerns through the coronavirus pandemic in this post that draws from national data from its membership organisation.
Citizens Advice has seen record-breaking demand for advice on its website over the past month with nine million page views, a 39% rise on the same period last year.
After an initial surge in enquiries about sick pay and redundancy, data from the charity now shows a dramatic increase in people seeking advice on paying bills and accessing benefits.
Over the month, pages on benefits were viewed over 2.2 million times, this includes just under 750,000 views of the Universal Credit pages. Advice pages on work, for example sick pay or being furloughed, were viewed 1.6 million times.
Coronavirus was the most searched word on the charity’s website, followed by people looking for information on Universal Credit and the government’s furlough scheme.
Citizens Advice, founded the day after World War II was declared, has since become a multi-channel service providing face-to-face appointments alongside phone, email and web chat.
The service, which is currently only provided via telephone, email and web chat due to social distancing rules, helped 220,000 people one-to-one with specific issues over the last month
Since the charity started recording whether a problem was related to coronavirus, 32,000 people have required help with a query specific to this pandemic. Half of those wanted help with Universal Credit and a third wanted to talk about employment problems.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of national Citizens Advice, said:
“Last month we helped millions of people. Behind each enquiry was a family struggling to pay rent, someone self-employed who could no longer afford their bills, or a person attempting to claim benefits for the first time.
"These personal stories combine to paint a bigger picture of how lives have been interrupted by coronavirus. Not only will we continue to help as many people as we can with their individual problems, we’ll use that bigger picture to advocate for change to make sure no one is left behind.”
The challenges that people are seeking guidance on have changed drastically over the past month, data from the national Citizens Advice website tells the story of how people’s concerns and problems have changed as the pandemic continues and new government measures are put in place.
On 20 March, Citizens Advice published a new page on what to do if you can’t pay your bills because of coronavirus. Within two days this was the number one viewed page and it has stayed in the top seven ever since.
After the Prime Minister announced lockdown measures on 23 March, Citizens Advice published a page on checking what benefits you can get. This quickly moved into the top 10 most viewed pages. With people having their hours cut, being laid off or made redundant, this page has remained in the top 10.
On 25 March the charity published another new page on what to do if your employer has told you not to work. After the Chancellor announced further details on the job retention scheme the next day, the page entered the top ten and has remained in the top two since 31 March.
Enquiries about Universal Credit first began to spike in mid-March, and have remained at high levels, mirrored by the unprecedented numbers of people applying for the benefit through the DWP.
The trends over the last week show people are still worried about what to do if their employer has told them not to work and what to do if they won’t be able to pay their bills.
These challenges are playing out locally in Gateshead too, with more people than ever in the most drastic situations wanting our help, and when they receive it the gratitude they show is humbling.
Alison Dunn Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gateshead says "to hear feedback like 'When I clap on Thursday for key workers I'll be clapping for you too' is incredibly humbling, I could not be prouder of the way the charity's Trustees, employees, volunteers and funders have responded to this emergency, these are not easy conditions for the charity or for society but the team have all dug deep to maintain our services and reach as many people as possible. Advice really can change lives."