A coronavirus fund grant is helping a charity set up a new finance and debt advice service in Salisbury to cope with redundancies caused by the pandemic.
The Swan Advocacy Network is setting up a Community Money Advice service in South Wiltshire with a £9,700 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.
The fund has raised £1.1 million and already distributed £850,000 to more than 200 groups across Wiltshire and Swindon to help them tackle the fallout from the pandemic.
The new service will aim to help meet the needs of people facing a large drop in income because of job losses caused by the pandemic.
Development manager Niki Westerling said: “We will offer free face to face help with a personal budgeting and debt advice service, and act as money mentors to anyone who needs it.
“We will help our clients to prepare a personal financial statement which represents a complete picture of their household income, expenditure and debts and defines their working budget. We help clients to maximise income and minimise expenditure, running a benefit check to see if there is anything that may have been missed.”
She said the end of furlough in October is likely to herald a new wave of unemployment and hardship. “We know that family incomes are already under pressure, particularly single parent families who are seeing a drop in child maintenance payments and making more use of the local food bank. They have also seen an increase in the number of carers receiving local food bank support,” said Niki.
The charity says Salisbury has already been hit by job losses at Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, The Dancing Moose and other hospitality venues and catering companies. With a steep decline in tourism and travel-related services and fall in demand for accommodation, transport, hospitality and related spending, SWAN fears there could be even more job losses.
“Some clients, who were in low paid employment but have now lost their jobs, will be finding it impossible to manage on Universal Credit, with rent support payments being below typical rents in this area.
"These clients will not have been able to build up sufficient savings to support themselves and will probably already be in debt and struggling to stay afloat,” said Niki.
The charity’s 12 volunteer debt advisors, four of whom worked for the Trussell Trust’s money advice service until it closed in 2019, will be based in the baptist church in Brown Street but will also have an outreach centre in Bemerton Heath, one of the city’s most deprived areas.
“The Money Advice Service estimates that 40 per cent of the UK population do not know how to budget effectively, and with typical household debt of around £10,000, this service will provide a valuable life skill. These are the people that we will support as well as referrals from Citizens Advice, food banks, letting agents and other charities,” added Niki.
Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “One of the core reasons for launching our fund is to help groups tackle the fallout from the pandemic and it is clear that a great many people are at risk of falling into poverty.
"Essential advice and information from groups like SWAN Advocacy will make all the difference in helping families keep their head above water and we are delighted to be able to support it.”
Find out more about SWAN Advocacy and its services at www.swanadvovacy.org.uk
To donate to the Wiltshire Community Foundation Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund or find out how to apply for a grant, go to www.wiltshirecf.org.uk
Pictured: SWAN Advocacy advisors will help people understand their debts and what help is available, thanks to a Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund from Wiltshire Community Foundation