The Advice Dorset Partnership covers the geographical county of Dorset, and is circulated every fortnight, to bring you news and information relating to the advice sector in Dorset and Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole. The Partnership is supported by Citizens Advice in Dorset (CAiD). 

During the Covid-19 outbreak we are publishing a weekly E News to keep you updated on information you may need for your clients/service users (benefits, rights for the self-employed, other financial help, support services, and anything else we hope may be of use…….). 

As usual feel free to forward this email to  colleagues and  they can get in touch with us if they wish to go on the list.  If you would like to send anything out via the bulletin,  and for all other enquiries about the Advice Dorset Partnership, contact Caroline Buxton on her Citizens Advice Central Doset email:  mailto:caroline.buxton@centralca.org.uk

Usually at this time of year we would all be ready to relax, enjoy the festive season, meet up with people…….. This year is somewhat different and I am aware that some of the reports I’ve included in this week’s edition make for gloomy reading. So don’t get too bogged down – I have found some cheery things to warm the heart at the BBC’s Uplifiting Stories web site here. Meanwhile enjoy the break safely, where and how you can, and the next E News will be 7 January 2021.

Jobs

Bridport & District Citizens Advice – Advice Session Supervisor.

18.5 hours per week, £25,295 (gross FTE), permanent contract.

You will be a good team player with an ability to supervise our advice team operating both remotely and from our office in Bridport to ensure that the quality of advice given is of a high standard. You will have considerable experience of advice work in one or more of our core enquiry areas; benefits, debt, employment, housing and consumer. Closing date 14 January 2021. Read more:

Information

BENEFITS

Proposed benefit rates for 2020/21 are published here. As yet there is no decision on whether the £20 uplift on UC and Tax Credits will continue after 31 March 2021….

Severe Disability Premium ‘gateway’ to end: Currently, this prevents people on legacy benefits claiming Universal Credit, which could result in a loss of income. This provision will end on 27 January 2021.

Although people can continue on legacy benefis until ‘managed migration’ comes in, a change of circumstances might trigger a UC claim. SDP claimants who naturally migrate after the gateway ends may however be entitled to SDP transitional amounts which are intended to provide some partial compensation for the loss.

It will therefore be important to establish whether clients have a choice about claiming UC and if so, what’s best for them. Claimants may also need help to get their transitional payments where appropriate.

Personal Independence Payment: On 11 January the Personal Independence Payment change of circumstances form PIP2(UI) (How your disability affects you) will be replaced with a new form called the AR1UI (How your disability affects you). The new form aligns the change of circumstances process with the award review process, and requires less information, so should reduce the time it takes for people to complete the form. The Govt information on this is here.

Covid19- Self-Isolation payments: The NHS Covid19 app has been updated to allow people contacted in this way to claim a self-isolation payment. There is now a financial support button which takes you to another website to fill in details and check eligibility. The BBC covered this story in November, featuring a Dorset resident (see previous issues). Read more here.

EMPLOYABILITY & SKILLS

National Skills Fund: This aims to help adults to train and gain the valuable skills they need to improve their job prospects and support the economy.

From April 2021, adults without A-Levels or equivalent will be eligible to study for a free Level 3 qualification to help boost their job prospects and get ahead in work. There are almost 400 courses on offer including; construction, agriculture, digital and health and social care. There will also be Skills Boot Camps in various locations Read more here.

TAX

Self employed people – tax bills: Many self employed clients may be struggling with tax bills as a result of the pandemic. If tax bills are not paid on time, they incur late payment penalties and interest, so clients need to get in touch with HMRC  if they think they won’t be able to pay.  

For people who deferred their July Payment On Account this will be due on 31st January, along with the usual balancing payment. The Payment Support Service can be contacted to discuss options such as payment plans. Read more here.

IMMIGRATION

EU points based immigration system: This guidance is for new EU entrants arriving after 31 December 2020 who will have to obtain visas if they want to work or study in the UK.

Non EEA – Visas: People who have a visa that expires between 1 December and 31 January, but who are not able to leave the UK because of coronavirus can apply for additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’. Anyone already with a grant of ‘exceptional assurance’ who still can’t leave can apply again. Home Office guidance is here.

UK Nationals living in the EU: Post Brexit guidance is here, with links to guidance for individual countries.

SUPPORT FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

The Govt has announced a package of funding including an extra £68 m for Disable Facilities Grants. These grants can be used towards the costs of home adaptations such as stair-lifts, level access showers, wet rooms, winches, grab rails and ramps. These can play a critical role in avoiding the need for hospital or care home admission, as well as helping to speed-up discharge from hospital. Read the Press Release here. DFGs are administered by local authorities.

SCAMS

Scam Marshalls are people who use their own experience to talk to others about scams in their community and send any scam mail that they receive to National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team so that it can be used as evidence in future investigative and enforcement work. To sign up as a marshall go to the Friends Against Scams website. See also below for a link to a blog on online festive shopping.

Events, webinars, etc

Policy in Practice: Why we need flexible collection policies for Council Tax debt. How council tax is collected can have an impact on the lives of low-income households. The handling of council tax arrears and the extra costs that can be incurred in the collection process can cause extreme poverty or destitution, and may increase levels of problem debt. Local authorities in England can choose how to collect council tax, and different best practice models designed to collect from financially vulnerable citizens are emerging.  Policy in Practice will present their review of several different authorities.

Wednesday 27 January 2021, 10.30 – 11.45. More info here.

Reports, blogs etc

Citizens Advice: one in seven people have fallen behind on essential bills. This Press Release reports on a recent survey of over 6,000 people; it also includes top tips to help people deal with debts. Read more here. There’s also a more detailed report here.

The Housing Ombudsman has published data on social landlords’ complaints handling here. Each landlord performance report shows:

  • the categories of the enquiries and complaints we received
  • the outcomes of our decisions
  • the types of orders we made for landlords to put things right
  • the timeliness of landlord compliance with orders.

Read more here, where there sis also a link to search for the report for specific landlords.

Citizens Advice – Avoid online scams this festive season: The three main tips in this blog are:

  • do your research into the company.
  • if it seems to be too good to be true it probably is!
  • how do they want you to pay?

Read more here.

Universal Credit Statistics: If you want some number-crunching to fill those long dark mid winter days, go to the Govt’s recently released figures on UC. Of the 5.7 million people on Universal Credit at 8 October:

  • 39% were in the ‘Searching for work’ conditionality regime
  • 38% were in employment

Of the 4.6 million households on Universal Credit at 13 August 2020:

  • 86% (3.9 million) were in-payment – down from 88% in May 2020 and 94% in February 2020
  • the average (mean) payment to in-payment households was £760 a month

Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Destitution in the UK 2020. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak destitution was rapidly growing in scale and intensity. Since 2017 many more households, including families with children, have been pushed to the brink. Their precarious existence offered little protection when the pressure of COVID-19 threatened to push them even deeper into destitution. Read more here.

Trussell Trust report – ‘Lift the Burden’: 47% of households surveyed at food banks during the summer owed money to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) due to loans and overpayments of benefits – this is compared to 37% at the start of the year before the pandemic hit. The charity is urging the government to stop taking money from people’s pockets through the winter months until a more responsible and just system is put in place. Read the report here.

Funding News

Local Connections Fund launching opens on 5 January 2021 [and closes on 26 January!]: Funded by the Government and the National Lottery Community Fund, the new £4 million Local Connections Fund aims to help reduce loneliness; it is intended for small constituted voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations with an annual income of £50,000 or less. There will be two funding rounds, with a total of £2 million available for each round. Grants of between £300 and £2,500 are to be used to:

·        Build relationships in and across communities to help reduce loneliness and build connections between people and communities

·        Bring together organisations who are working on social connections to celebrate their work, share learning and best practice, and form/bring together peer networks.

Read more here.