Pre-pandemic, we knew that people with mental health problems struggled to manage their financial wellbeing and access essential services, including financial services, water, energy, and telecoms problems and could be exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.
People with pre-existing mental health problems risk their condition deteriorating as they navigate challenges without much-needed help from loved ones or professionals.
Growing numbers of people start to experience poor mental health, distress and anxiety, which could in turn lead to struggles managing money and a fear of contacting essential service providers.
Many will struggle with the double whammy of reduced income and higher bills from being at home more.
To support essential service providers and their front-line staff, The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute have put together a list of eight urgent standards that organisations can adopt right now
not disconnecting people from essential services writing to customers to let them know what support is available
making it easier to get in touch remotely by increasing webchat capacity
and offering callbacks
telling customers on websites and telephone on-hold messages, things like, which documents they’ll need, what questions might be asked, how else people can get in touch and what the likely wait time is
breaking down information into manageable sections and waiting while customers write it down
helping customers stay in control of their spending by having easy to use spending caps or blocks on certain types of spending
signposting to additional support services
Please take a look at the The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (link above) and see if there is anything you can use to help the people you care for.
Hello and welcome to the first Research and Campaigns blog post!
Citizens Advice commits to campaigning on issues that affect people’s lives. Each week, we’ll be writing about a different Research and Campaigns issue and what we are doing to try to fix it. We will also give tips for what you can do if it affects you.
This week’s blog post is on Council Tax debt. Council Tax debt is the most common debt issue we see. It has risen by a third in the last 3 years.
Due to this rise, Citizens Advice launched a campaign called Council Tax Protocol. As part of the campaign, local Citizens Advice offices are working together with local councils. This is to have fair debt collection processes and stop people getting into debt in the first place. It is one of the primary campaigns we are working on here.
Are You Struggling to Pay Your Council Tax?
During the coronavirus pandemic, Sandwell Council has suspended all court action for Council related debt. This means you may get an initial letter telling you about the debt, but they will take no further action. It is important to remember that this is only during the pandemic. The council expects you to pay the debt back once the pandemic is over. The usual recovery process will then resume.
If you cannot pay your bill, you should inform the council as soon as possible and then talk to one of our debt advisers.
If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for Council Tax Reduction. You can check your eligibility for Council Tax reductions or exemptions here. You can also talk to one of our generalist advisers. They may be able to determine your eligibility, and help you with an application. They can also check your eligibility for other benefits. This will be especially useful if your income has dropped recently due to the pandemic!
We do not have a face-to-face service currently due to quarantine. But you can still get advice over webchat or call our Adviceline service on 0300 330 9017 (local rates apply). Check the opening times for these services on our website.
Staying happy, healthy and safe- Missing Friends and Family Members
I have shared some great ideas that I saw on aGo Play Sandwell document
At the moment, things might feel very strange; you might be really missing seeing and being with your friends or family members who don’t live with you. But by staying safe at home, we can keep our family and friends safe too. If you are missing your friends and family, some of the ideas below might help you to stay in touch.
I have had a go at this
Make a list of your favourite friends and family phone numbers, email addresses, postal addresses.
Sharing is caring: remember to tell someone that you live with about how you feel.
Write a letter, poem or rap to a friend or a family member telling them why they are a good friend/relative to you and what you miss most about not being able to spend time with them. You could also share your favourite memories of times you spent together. Parents can post letters when they do an essential shop.
Plan a list of activities that you want to do with your friends when you can see each other again.
Create a collage of photos of your friends and families; if you don’t have any photos draw them instead!
Arrange to watch things on TV or online with your friends and then call them to chat about what you thought of it on phone or gaming device.
Set up a weekly challenge (remember to stay safe online!) Create a list of activities between your friends and yourselves. Share the photos and vote for the best response. Some examples could includeA weekly bake-off challenge and then post pictures of your efforts. -A garden/home treasure hunt. Have a start-stop time and post pictures of the things you have found Have an online karaoke party Hold a book club and choose one book to read each week. Think of one question each about the book and have an online discussion. Choose a time to all visit an online zoo and then talk to one another about your experience.
Keep a journal: just a sentence or a picture a day about how you feel, what you did so you can share it with friends or family later.
Sharing memories about my family start a family tree; this is a great way to share memories of our family members, have a look at family photos (both digital and physical). Make a list of your family members and all come up with a positive thing about them and write it next to their name. You can do this with your friends on social media too. Make a keepsake box of tickets, receipts, photos, trinkets – things that make memories of your family member. Draw a picture with yourself in the middle and your family members around you write a positive thing that links you to each member.
Choose a day to have a family picnic in the garden or a carpet picnic in the house and ask your other family members to do the same and share the fun on your video phones.
What’s happening with our bank accounts and credit/store cards
The first £500 of authorised overdrafts can be interest-free for 3months (for overdrafts under £500, the entire balance will be interest-free).
Those with accounts that have an overdraft facility, who are struggling due to coronavirus, should be able to request one of these 0% overdrafts, subject to a credit score.
To be fair, many banks were offering some easing anyway, but this deletes the ‘lottery’ element. After all, no one chose a bank based on how well they’d behave in this never-imagined crisis
Please check what your bank is doing. Many have sent texts to inform us of their policies during this time.
Your credit cards, store cards, personal loans and catalogues
They all must offer a payment holiday
The FCA also proposes that all lenders will be expected to move towards offering payment holidays of up to 3mths on personal loans, credit cards and catalogue debts – so if you can’t pay, you won’t need to.
Don’t just stop payment though – you need to agree with them.
Once done, these payments aren’t allowed to hurt your creditworthiness, nor can there be any penalties or charges if you do, you can’t lose a 0% deal either
-Is it worth taking a payment holiday?
Yes if you have an emergency cash flow need, no if not. That’s especially true if the interest rate is high, as it’ll still rack up during the payment holiday, and as you’re not making repayments it can be hefty. So only do this if you need it.
– Does this apply to car finance, payday loans & other short-term credit too?
No, although I hear at least with car finance, the regulator is likely to make an announcement soon, though lenders are already required to show forbearance to customers.
It’s always a good idea to do a budget but at this difficult time we all should all do an “emergency budget” whether that’s a full spreadsheet or on the back of an envelope, or one of our online planners, anything is better than nothing.
It’s not always much fun but you will be pleased you did it once it’s all over
This is what a colleague sent me earlier this week ………………..
“From our own situations, we are having to shop and support both sets of elderly parents and have had to use more expensive corner shops to get their shopping as the supermarkets were not safe to go near, I’m sure there’ll be others like us doing the same which will have a massive impact on budgets.”
There are some great online budget planners which work really well and in this time of home curfews perhaps we have a little more time to have a go!
We recognise that at this time it may be one of increased financial pressure for most people.
Now that the majority of the country will be working from home, it gives scammers a new opportunity to think of ingenious ways to gain access to data. We cannot stress enough the importance it is to remain vigilant at these times. If you receive a call you’re not expecting to terminate it immediately. If you receive an email that looks suspicious don’t click on any links or attachments.
Take a look and see what you can share with the people you care for, friends, family & colleagues.
Most importantly stay safe …. and some tools to help…..
4. Reporting a Scam – Action Fraud can get the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to investigate scams. They’ll also give you a crime reference number, which can be helpful if you need to tell your bank you’ve been scammed. Read our advice on trying to get your money back after a scam.