Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Citizens Advice Bureau braces for new surge of debt pleas for help

Suzanne Wigmore

 

An advice charity bracing itself for a surge in people plunged into debt by the pandemic has been boosted by a Wiltshire Community Foundation grant.

Wiltshire Citizens Advice Bureau has been awarded £21,900 from the community foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund, which has now raised more than £950,000 and distributed more than £600,000 to 167 groups.

The grant will help fund a new member of staff to bolster the charity when furlough changes for more than 70,000 people in Wiltshire next month and more firms are faced with having to make staff redundant.

Chief executive Suzanne Wigmore said the service, which has offices in Devizes, Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury, expects to see people unexpectedly facing mounting bills and mortgage arrears when their jobs vanish.

“We are going to be seeing a new client group in the coming months,” she said. “We’ve had more than 100,000 people in Wiltshire who have either been furloughed, made a new claim for Universal Credit or been supported by the government’s self-employed scheme and a lot of them are in the ‘we never thought it would happen to us’ group.

“It will include people who have been working in hospitality, in shops or on zero-hours contracts, and also those who have been on a high income but also have high outgoings to match it.”

She said people who have become used to a regular income will find the shock of losing it difficult to cope with. “Some people who have lived on a low income for quite a while are really good at living on very little,” she said.

”But people who have got a certain level of salary have got car loans, mortgages, school and university fees and a lot of those are fixed costs. When you are looking at managing debt and trying to work out what can be reduced it’s tough for them.”

The charity has 57 paid staff, ten of them part-time, and around 100 volunteer advisors. With its offices closed, the service has switched to online and phone help. The new full-time member of staff will be joining at just the right time, said Suzanne.

“At the end of May there were more than 70,000 who were furloughed or on the self-employed scheme, a lot of those will go back to work but many of them won’t and they will be coming our way. The difficulty for us is that we just don’t know how many to expect,” she added.

“The changes to the furlough scheme will start in August when the employers have to make a contribution, and that is the point when things will change. We are expecting to see more people coming to us in September, October and November.”

The CAB, which deals with 800 cases a week, is expecting to see more young people who have lost their jobs in hospitality or retail.

“The new group are likely to be quite young and digitally inclined so it is easy to advise them because they able to email and use the phone but most of them won’t know anything about Job Centres or Universal Credit, that will be a shock to them. They have the capacity to help themselves, but it’s knowing where to turn,” said Suzanne.

She said getting to people quickly before their debts spiral out of control is vital: “It doesn’t take long to happen. You only need to miss one or two mortgage payments or borrow one payday loan, which then gets rolled over, and things get out of hand."

“This grant is going to make a massive difference to people in Wiltshire who never thought they would find themselves in this position. It will allow us to provide early intervention so they can get back to work, stay in their home and not get into debt.”

Community foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “The CAB provides invaluable advice that can change peoples’ lives and we are really pleased to be helping them meet the challenges ahead. So many groups will be stepping up to meet the needs of their communities, which is why our Coronavirus Response Fund is so important.”

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to www.wiltshirecf.org.uk

Pictured: Suzanne Wigmore