In line with the latest Government advice, from Monday 23 March we began to transition from an office based service to a primarily home-based one. As part of this process everybody with a booked appointment at any of our offices was contacted and offered a telephone, rather than face-to-face, appointment.
From Thursday 26 March our offices were fully closed to the public and we started to operate a home-based system, with just one member of our paid staff team attending each office each day to carry out vital office-based functions such as collecting and distributing post, voicemails etc.
Implementing this major transition in such a short time for over 120 staff and volunteers has been very challenging for our small paid staff team. However, I am pleased to report that we now have a full email and telephone advice service in place. The process of providing our advisers with the ability to work from home is complicated and requires new ways of working but we expect to be up to full strength by the end of this week.
Despite these significant changes, and the more limited ways that people can now access our services, last week we helped over 200 clients, including supporting our most vulnerable existing clients with their ongoing and often complex issues.
The focus on providing telephone advice has also meant that the call answer rate on the joint Citizens Advice East Surrey Adviceline, which we form part of, has now increased to 50%. We hope that this will improve still further when we have been able to provide more of our advisers with the technology to take Adviceline calls directly at home.
We also saw nearly 60 clients new to our service over the last week. This is nearly twice the number of new clients we would expect to see in a normal week when our offices are fully open to the public.
This reflects the new issues arising from the changes to people’s normal lives over the last few weeks. These include individual financial situations that have unexpectedly become perilous, unanticipated issues with employment or a requirement to make a Universal Credit claim.
Changing enquiry areas
More than half of our current enquiries are directly related to the consequences of the current outbreak, including on employment, benefit entitlements and personal finances.
Help to Claim Service
One particular area which has seen an exponential increase in demand is around telephone advice on claiming Universal Credit, which has increased nearly tenfold nationally in the last couple of weeks.
I am therefore pleased to report that the Department of Work and Pensions has recently confirmed that the contract for the national Citizens Advice’s Help to Claim service has recently been extended for a further 12 months. This service supports people applying for the first time for Universal Credit.
Citizens Advice Waverley is one of two Citizens Advice offices delivering Help to Claim telephone advice in Surrey. Despite the recent uncertainties over the future of this contract we have been able to retain our small paid staff team delivering this service and to make the necessary arrangements for them to work from home.
Working with partners
Over the last couple of weeks we have started to reach out to key partner organisations, including local foodbanks, to ensure that these critical partnerships continue to provide the support that local people need.
We are aware that there is a lot of additional local activity going on with local community voluntary groups springing up. We are keen to engage and support this new work in whatever ways possible. I would be grateful therefore for any information you can supply on such local groups in your area, including their contact details where possible.
We have made great strides in the last week or two in ensuring that the most vulnerable local people continue to have access to our vital services. But there is still some way to go, including ensuring that all of those people new to our services are aware of how to access them and what support we can provide.
I would be grateful therefore if you could ensure that any local information you supply to your parishioners includes appropriate details of the services and support we offer. Our full contact details can be found on our website : www.waverleycab.org.uk.
Phil Davies Chief Executive Office – Citizens Advice Waverley
Godalming OfficeCITIZENS ADVICE WAVERLEY
(Registered Charity No. 1098859. Registered Company No. 4823693)
Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. FRN: 617568
Contact: 01483 869590