Research and Campaigns
One of the twin aims of the Citizens Advice service is to campaign to improve the policies and practices which affect people's every day lives. Everyone who works for us contributes to this work, by identifying examples of unfairness and writing a report. These reports are dealt with by our team of dedicated volunteers who carry out further research and campaign to bring about improvements for the people of Eastbourne. The top subjects we are working on right now are:
We are continuing to see women who have been treated badly by their employers when they tell them they are pregnant. Typical examples include people on zero hours contracts who aren't offered any further work. In previous years this was rare for us, we would see about 1 case a year. In 2016-17 we saw 8 and we are continuing to see further examples which are becoming a worrying trend.
We set up an online survey to find out about women's experiences when pregnant at work and we received a number of responses. We have produced a report which explains the impact on the clients we have advised and makes recommendations on how to support women to receive their rights. We will continue to publicize this subject and raise awareness within the Eastbourne Community and Business sector. You can download a copy of our report here:This subject was recently covered on BBC Sussex Radio and you can listen to a clip here
Universal Credit - pause the roll-out to get things fixed
Citizens Advice Eastbourne is warning that Universal Credit is putting people’s financial security at risk as they wait six weeks or more for their first payment. Many people have already turned to Citizens Advice Eastbourne for help with "live service" Universal Credit, a temporary version of the benefit available to people in the area with straightforward claims.The numbers struggling will grow rapidly from October 2017, when “full service” arrives, meaning anyone who would previously have claimed one of the old benefits - such as tax credits or housing benefit- has to apply for Universal Credit.
By 2022 Universal Credit will affect 13,500 households across Eastbourne. Across the country 1 in 4 (28%) working age households will be claiming Universal Credit, more than half of which (54%) will be in employment. The benefit will also be claimed by more than half (52%) of all families with children in the UK and 6 in 10 (58%) households where an adult is disabled or has a long term health condition.
In a major new report - Delivering on Universal Credit - national Citizens Advice has revealed that the requirement to wait for six weeks to receive any payment means people face serious financial insecurity, with many being forced into debt.
The research also identifies a wide range of administrative challenges, including problems with the online system and long waits to get help over the phone, which can make the initial six week wait even longer. As part of the new study, national Citizens Advice surveyed 800 people who sought help with Universal Credit in areas where there is full service.
Over a third (39%) of people are waiting more than the 6 weeks it should take to receive their first payment.
Just over 1 in 10 (11%) are waiting over 10 weeks without the benefit.
3 in 5 (57%) are having to borrow money while waiting for their first payment.
The report also reveals that people are having problems with the new online application process. These range from difficulties using a computer, to issues getting hold of the right evidence to support their claim. And when things go wrong the research shows people are not able to get the help they need: nearly a third (30%) of people said they had to make more than 10 calls to the Universal Credit helpline during their application process, often having to wait over 30 minutes to get through.
Here is our story on Eastbourne Buzz about the need to stop the roll-out of Universal Credit. We will be working with Stephen Lloyd MP to campaign for changes to improve this service for all.
Standards of temporary accommodation - update
Following numerous reports from our clients about appalling conditions in temporary accommodation, we joined up with Eastbourne Foodbank to gather more information. We received a lot of stories about infestations of bugs, mould, no bedding or furniture, threatening behaviour and intimidation, drug use, lack of support for vulnerable people. The problem was that, unlike other types of housing, temporary accommodation had no minimum legal standards as to what you could expect. We felt this was wrong and something needed to change.
We met with Eastbourne Borough Council and the local providers of temporary accommodation and have recently agreed a Charter for Temporary Housing which sets out the basic standard which can be expected. Finishing touches are being made to this document which all involved parties will be expected to adhere to. This includes giving the Council a way to review individual premises and stop using places which don't provide the minimum requirements.
This work is a major improvement which has been achieved through partnership working and the work of our volunteer teams.
Problems claiming sickness and disability benefits
There have been numerous clients who have contacted us for advice on claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The problems have included long delays, administrative errors and poor quality decisions where people who have serious health problems are found fit for work. Advice agencies locally report that over 90% of cases they deal with are successful in over turning DWP decisions at appeal.
We held a public event which was attended by 40 people from Eastbourne who shared their stories and discussed what needs to change. You can read more about this here
This is a national problem and we continue to forward our evidence to Citizens Advice head office. They in turn, collate all the information they receive and campaign with government ministers to being about improvements. We have shared our findings with local MP, Caroline Ansell and now Stephen Lloyd and will continue to report our findings.
Following our public event we have produced report giving details of the cases we have helped people with and listing our campaign points on what needs to change. You can download a copy of the report here:
Zero Hours Contracts
Over the past year we have seen many clients who have come to us with employment problems which are related to zero hours contracts. We carried out a survey and have produced a report which you can read here.
Zero Hours Contract Report.pdf (538kb)
As a result of our findings, we have started a campaign to ask employers to stop using zero hours contracts routinely and to consider the alternatives first. This would give employees more rights and more security which would make them feel more valued at work and feel more confident to plan for the future.
We are asking all Eastbourne employers to sign our pledge, to stop using zero hours contracts as a norm. To sign our pledge click here.
If you would like to support our campaigns or are interested in finding out more about this work you can contact us via Adviceline 03444 111 444. You can read more about National Policy Research here and Campaigns here.