After taking the decision to suspend all face-to-face advice across at Harrogate Citizens Advice, the team have been helping people by phone and online.
And there has been no let up in demand from local people needing help with problems with work or benefits or the law during lockdown.
Edward Pickering, chief executive of Citizens Advice Craven and Harrogate Districts, said: “It is requiring a lot of additional effort to run our organisation remotely, but I’m incredibly proud of everyone who has rolled up their sleeves to muck in and help out.
Mr Pickering said: “Due to the incredible effort of our staff and volunteers working from their homes, we are able to deal with demand for the enquiries we are receiving. Coronavirus is presenting additional challenges for people but we are still able to help the public with any problems they may face.”
Harrogate’s role as the first town in the country to trial the latest ‘managed migration’ phase of Universal Credit may have been suspended but the impact of coronavirus and social distancing is presenting new problems.
Mr Pickering said staff and volunteers had come to the aid of people struggling to get benefit payments while others were experiencing difficulties with employers over furloughing.
He said: “A female worker in the hospitality industry on a full-time contract got in touch after her employers wanted her to stay on to carry out routine cleaning whilst all their temporary staff had been let go.
“The working conditions were safe - social distancing was easy to observe, and no shortage of hand washing facilities.
“But our client had young children and a parent who was shielding and relied on her, so she was frightened about bringing the virus home with her. She said she had even thought about resigning.
“We were able to advise that she was eligible for furlough, to have 80% of her salary paid by the government and the other 20% by her employer.”
In another case, a vulnerable young woman had not received any benefit payments for ten weeks.
Mr Pickering said: “We were contacted by a very vulnerable young woman, who’s parent had sadly passed away.
“Her parent had also been her appointee and the named tenant on her local authority housing.
“The administrative challenges our client faced in lockdown, had been incredibly frustrating; from being unable to change the bank her benefits were paid into, cancellation of JCP appointments due to the lockdown, and being unable to get the documentation she needed.
“But we were able to advocate for the client, liaise with the local Jobcentre, who were incredibly understanding, sort out the necessary changes and secure the client’s payment.
“The client was overwhelmed with happiness to finally have some money to contribute to the household.
“We were also able to reassure her about the current suspension of eviction action, and her tenancy succession rights.”
How to access help from Harrogate Citizens Advice
Although its base at Queensway in Harrogate is temporarily closed, Citizens Advice can still be contacted on 01423 503591 or online via https://cachd.org.uk/
Supported by North Yorkshire Council, it offers free, independent and confidential advice on solving individual problems, including debt and consumer issues, benefits, housing, legal matters, employment, and immigration.
The Citizens Advice national Help To Claim Universal Credit helpline is available on 0800 144 8 444 for anyone who needs help making their first UC claim.
Nationally, Citizens Advice helped 2.7 million people last year.
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