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 and volunteers for us contributes to this work by identifying examples of unfairness and our team of research & campaign volunteers use this evidence to write letters, reports and news articles with the aim of influencing decision makers on what needs to change. We also raise awareness about rights and benefits. Campaign success stories are shown at the end of this page.
Our current priorities…
1. Employment Support Allowance (ESA) & Personal Independence Payments (PIP)
East Sussex Citizens Advice helped 7,143 people with 19,113 benefit issues in 2018.
Around a third of these issues related to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) - benefits aimed at supporting those living with disabilities and long term health conditions. In particular we supported clients:
- negotiate the complex application process
- prepare for the medical assessment
- challenge decisions
- manage the impact of long waits for their benefit claims to be resolved.
These two benefits are the ones on which we are most likely to submit evidence to national Citizens Advice of unfairness and maladministration.
Citizens Advice services in East Sussex have compiled a report on the experiences of our clients claiming PIP and ESA. The title of the report It’s Just Not Fair summarises our clients experience.
Their stories show a system that is simply not fit for purpose - medical assessment processes that can humiliate and prejudge, delays of over a year in resolving claims and processes that seem almost designed to make applicants give up. In short when a claim for PIP or ESA goes wrong, the time it takes to resolve it and the impact on clients, who by virtue of their health or disability are in need of additional support, are more significant than for any other benefit.
Kay Birch, former Chief Executive of Wealden Citizens Advice said:
“The treatment some of our clients have experienced is truly shocking. Medical assessors completing assessments before they have even seen the client; a housebound client relying on oxygen being expected to travel to his assessment centre on public transport carrying an oxygen cylinder with him; clients who have been in receipt of support for long term conditions for years suddenly cut off and the resulting appeals taking 15 to 16 months to be resolved. Without the ongoing support of local Food Banks, many of our clients would not have been able to cope.”
Alan Bruzon, Manager of Eastbourne CAB added: “The system for PIP and ESA is broken. Seven out of ten appeals are upheld which shows that the processes for assessing need are simply not working. Not only is this hugely distressing for those facing long delays in accessing the support to which they are entitled, but it is wasting a large amount of taxpayer’s money - £108.1m was spent on direct staffing costs alone for ESA and PIP appeals between October 2015 and 2018.”
The report proposes a number of recommendations, including:
- simplifying the application process.
- making the medical assessment process accessible, fair, delivered to quality standards by suitably trained assessors with the individual’s circumstances listened to.
- tackling the excessive delay in the system.
- tackling errors earlier so applicants do not have to go through a lengthy and stressful appeal process unnecessarily, at significant cost to the taxpayer.
2. Universal Credit (for help with this click here)
1 in 3 clients seek our help with regard to welfare benefits and tax credits. In 2017/18 we helped clients secure an additional £1.8m in additional benefits and tax credits.
Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people in or out of work. It replaces some of the benefits and tax credits that people might be getting now:
- Housing benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Income support
- Working Tax Credit
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
The benefit has been rolled out across the whole of Wealden with claimants moving on to the new benefit as and when their circumstances change.
It is clear from evidence gathered nationally that whilst Universal Credit is working for the majority of people, a significant minority are still struggling to make a Universal Credit claim and this putting them in financial difficulty.
National Citizens Advice's new research [ 0.64 mb] highlights the problems people are having when making a claim and the impact this is having on the thousands of people who are paid late as a result.
We recommend that Government:
Ensures adequate support is available to every claimant
Makes claiming Universal Credit less complicated
Makes it easier to provide evidence as part of a claim.
Together with colleagues across the country we have raised these issues with local MPs and in the meantime we are working together with Wealden District Council and local services to provide access to support locally for those in need. Universal Credit job coaches are now offering job advice and support to Universal Credit claimants at outreach facilities in Hailsham and Crowborough.
Success! Several Fantastic Wins for our Universal Credit Campaign!
- Two week run-on of legacy benefits - From July 2020, people claiming income-related JSA, ESA and IS will receive an additional two weeks of benefit when they claim Universal Credit. We called for this change in our response to the SSAC consultation this summer.
- A £1.7 billion per year boost to work allowances - This will benefit an estimated 2.4m people. We have long been calling for this change - most recently in our report on single disabled people.
- Reducing the cap on deductions - From October 2019, the cap on deductions from UC will be set at 30% of the standard element, down from 40% currently. That’s a change from £127 to £95 a month for a single claimant over 25. We have been raising concerns on this issue with the DWP using data collected by over 50 local offices.
- Commitment to explore options to address difficulties around explicit consent - The requirement for advisers to get claimant consent each time in order to access information about their claim or act on their behalf is a long-standing barrier to supporting people on UC. The government has agreed to consider how current practices could be enhanced and to publish a report setting out their conclusions.
October 2017 - The Work and Pensions Secretary announced that the helpline people call to claim Universal Credit will be free, rather than up to 55p per minute, and all claimants will be told about advance payments. We have been calling for both changes since July, and they will have a positive impact for thousands of people.
November 2017 - The Government announced in November's Budget and Universal Credit (UC) statement a package to improve Universal Credit which is worth £1.5 billion. This includes removing the 7 waiting days and doubling the level and repayment period of Advance Payments. Crucially the Government also announced that Housing Benefit claimants will now get an additional payment, to help prevent them getting behind on their rent. This equates to an additional £230 for 2.3 million people and is something we suggested to Government behind the scenes. In addition, live service UC will be closed to new claims, the roll out of full service will be slowed down and the Government is committed to working with Citizens Advice on Universal Support.
3. Warm in Wealden
Click here for more information about how you can keep warm and well and to access the Warm Home Check Service.
Over 5,000 households in Wealden are estimated to live in fuel poverty - that is to say that they have high fuel bills and once paid those bills would leave them with a residual income below the poverty line.
Originally our aim with Warm in Wealden was to pilot the effectiveness of Citizens Advice as a single point of contact for those at risk of living in a cold home as envisaged in the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence Guidelines, but the project was such a success, it’s now an annual event.
Given the rural nature of the Wealden patch we decided it was important to:
- get out and about raising awareness in the local community of how they could reduce their energy costs and stay warm and well
- make every contact we had with those who might benefit from our service count, using prompt cards and checklists to identify those at risk of living in a cold home, even if they had initially sought our help about something else.
We have taken energy advice everywhere from supermarkets to Park Homes, from Smart Meter sessions to community events and lunch clubs, from radio to local newsletters - seeing 71 people in just one session in Hailsham during Big Energy Savings Week 2019.
This year we have expanded our service by joining up with local Citizens Advice services across East Sussex and energy efficiency co-operative RetrofitWorks to provide the Warm Home Check Service for East Sussex County Council. This links the holistic advice we can offer on everything from switching to benefits, from managing fuel bills to housing issues, with support to low income households for minor measures that will help keep their home warmer e.g. draughtproofing, insulation and heating system repairs. We aim to provide information and advice to 1,000 people a year under the scheme, providing 600 people with minor energy efficiency measures.
If you would like us to run an energy advice session in your local community, then do get in touch at email@example.com
4. Scams - June is Scams Awareness Month
As a Friend Against Scams, Wealden Citizens Advice is urging people to spread the word about scams and expose the tactics of fraudsters to protect others.
Wealden Citizens Advice wants to help stop people falling prey to scams by following a three-step rule - get advice, report it, and tell others about it.
It comes as national research by Citizens Advice finds scammers are using a variety of tactics to get people to part with their cash, with people losing an average of £2,500 across all types of scam.
Scam methods include vishing whereby scammers cold-call people in a bid to get their bank details, and offers of fake services, such as telling people their computer has a virus which they can fix remotely.
Investment scams carried the highest price tag, with people investing in fake diamonds or bogus stocks and shares losing of on average £20,000 each.
Citizens Advice is warning people to be on guard and watch out for the different methods used by fraudsters, from doorstep selling of counterfeit goods to demands for upfront payments for services that never materialise. Read more information from national Citizens Advice about how to spot scams here.
Kay Birch, former Chief Executive of Wealden Citizens Advice said:
“Scams are not a minor blight, they heap misery on people and in some cases can lead to financial ruin.
“Fraudsters use sophisticated techniques to con people and because they vary their methods, it can be tricky to spot when something is a scam. If you come across something that seems suspicious, seek advice so you don’t put yourself at risk.
“It’s vital to report scams and spread the word so we can clampdown on con artists and stop others falling into the same traps.”
Eight common scams reported to Citizens Advice are:
Investment - victims are persuaded to invest money into fake ventures and are then unable to get their money back.
Fake services - people are offered a service for a fee, only to find the service isn’t real or doesn’t exist at all. Examples include, offers to fix computers remotely and fake invoices for advertising.
Vishing - con-artists cold-call people pretending to be a legitimate company, asking for credit or debit card details - for example on the pretence that they need to refund overpaid bills.
Doorstep selling - victims are offered goods door-to-door or from the back of a van, which are likely to be counterfeit. Fraudsters selling mattresses, “fresh” fish and cleaning products were all reported to Citizens Advice.
Upfront payment or fee - fraudsters ask for a payment in advance for a service or product that never materialises, such as asking for a fee to get a loan, or to pay for a training course to secure a job.
Premium rate texts - victims inadvertently agree to receive premium rate texts about games or competitions, usually costing around £4 each.
Counterfeit goods - people buy goods at marketplaces or online that turn out to be counterfeit or even stolen. Common products include cigarettes, shoes and clothing, and tickets for events.
Goods not received - people place orders for goods which don’t arrive. Scams are often carried out through social media and online auction sites.
If you think you have been scammed you can get advice by:
calling the Citizens AdviceADVICELINE on 03444 111444
dropping into your local Citizens Advice office - opening times and directions can be found on the top tab of this website home page where you can also access on line information
calling the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06
You can also report scams to Trading Standards. Call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline 03454 04 05 06 and tell them you want to report a trader to Trading Standards. The consumer helpline will assess your problem and pass it on to Trading Standards if it's appropriate.
You can read more about Citizens Advice national research here and campaigns here. If you would like to support our campaigns or have any ideas on areas we should be looking at then do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Access to Local Services
PLANS to reopen five recently closed libraries as community-run facilities have been given the go-ahead. Libraries at Ore, Pevensey Bay, Polegate and Willingdon will open as community libraries following a decision on June 21 2018, by Cllr David Elkin, East Sussex County Council lead member for resources.
See Wealden Citizens Advice response to the original plan to close the libraries.. East Sussex County Council Library Services Consultation.
Read more about our national campaign successes here