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

Jobs

Citizens Advice Central Dorset – Debt Caseworkers [2 roles]:

1) Debt Caseworker – MaPS Project: Permanent Contract – 30 Hours per week – working remotely and/or based in our Weymouth office. Read more:

2) Debt Caseworker (including Supervision work):1 year contract – 30 Hours per week – covering North Dorset and Sherborne areas. Read more:

Information updates

COVID related

Bounce Back Loan Scheme – guidance on repayments. This government scheme enables smaller businesses to access finance more quickly during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. On 24 September 2020, the Chancellor announced the introduction of Pay As You Grow (PAYG) – a system providing flexibility for repaying a Bounce Back Loan, including being able to:

  • extend the loan term from six years to ten
  • make interest only payments for six months, which they can do up to three times during the loan term 
  • request a six-month repayment holiday, provided they have first made at least six payments

Updated FCA guidance aims to help firms understand how they can use and offer PAYG options.

Workplace Covid 19 testing: Rapid, regular testing of asymptomatic workers employed in sectors that remain open during lockdown, is now available to workplaces with 50 or more workers.  The announcement is here, and has a link to the registration page.

It should be noted that requiring employees to take a test may constitute a change to the employment contract. Acas says:

If an employer decides it’s necessary to test employees or workers for coronavirus (COVID-19), it should be agreed with staff or the workplace’s recognised trade union. The agreement should be put in writing, for example in a workplace policy. Employers can ask staff to be tested, but they cannot force staff to take a test, and should listed to the employee’s concerns. Read more on the ACAS website

Clinically extremely vulnerable: Recent changes have been announced to include those who have been identified through the COVID-19 Population Risk Assessment as potentially being at high risk of serious illness if they catch the virus.

OTHER ISSUES

Benefits, Pre-settled Status, new arrivals: New arrivals from the EU from 1 January 2021 may not be eligible to claim benefits – unless they have some form of family connection. People who were here before 31 December 2020 can claim if they have Settled Status. If they have Pre-Settled Status it is not recognised as a qualifying right to reside. The outcome of a court case – Fratila – is awaited, and the current advice is to claim the benefit in question and challenge the decision. There are also other rights to reside eg some form of work link, such as being a jobseeker or a worker. There is more discussion of this in the Benefits Training Company webinar – link below

The Benefit Cap is applied to a number of means-tested benefits, such as Universal Credit.People are not affected if they or their partner:

  • get Working Tax Credit (even if the amount is £0)
  • get Universal Credit because of a disability or health condition that stops them from working ( ‘limited capability for work and work-related activity’)
  • get Universal Credit because the care for someone with a disability
  • get Universal Credit and they and their partner earn £604 or more a month combined, after tax and National Insurance contributions

There are some other exemptions here. In addition, if a client on Universal Credit (UC) stops earning at least the threshold required to be exempt from the benefit cap, they may instead be exempt under the provisions for a 9 month grace period – read more here

Civil Legal Aid – calculating eligibility: Previously, when calculating available capital a mortgage of up to £100,000 could be deducted from the value of the applicant’s home. Now the cap has been removed, meaning that the entire mortgage can be subtracted. The effect of this is that more applicants will be able to pass the financial criteria for legal aid.  It is hoped that the change will in particular help victims of domestic abuse, many of whom were previously assessed as being financially ineligible for legal aid. Read more here.

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates will go up in April 2021. A significant change is that the trigger age for entitlement to the NLW will reduce from 25 and over, to 23 and over. In summary, these are the new rates:

  • Workers aged 23 and over should be paid £8.91 (currently £8.72).
  • 21-22 – £8.36 (£8.20)
  • 18-20 – £6.56 ( £6.45)
  • 16-17 – £4.55 ( £4.62)
  • Apprentices aged under 19 (or over 19 and in the 1st year of their apprenticeship) should be paid £4.30 (£4.15)

Warm Home Discount: Those in the core group should have been contacted by letter telling them how to get the discount. The letter also says that if not received, people will need to call the helpline by 26 February 2021 to confirm their details. Read more here and/or call the Warm Home Discount helpline on 0800 731 0214.

Post Office Card Accounts closing November 2021: These accounts are used by people for receiving benefits and state pensions. For options there is guidance on both the Post Office site here, and on Money Saving Expert.

Local news and information

Dorset Council Carer Support: Please circulate and/or print and display the attached poster (2 sizes available). NB: This Carer Support Service is for Dorset but the poster includes contact details for BCP carer services.

Dorset Council – draft Local Plan: This contains proposals for guiding future development in the Dorset Council area up to 2038. The plan outlines the strategy for meeting the needs of the area such as housing, employment, and community services including schools, retail, leisure and community facilities. Read more and comment here – the consultation is open until 15 March 2021.

Training, events etc

Benefits Training Company webinar: you can access a recording of the recent webinar (10 February) here. This covered recent changes around disability benefit assessments, Brexit, transition SDP etc. The slides are here.

You can also find their February Newsletter here.

Stop Loan Sharks training. The Illegal Money Lending Team is offering a number of courses – the next ones are listed below. Read more about the team under the Reports section.

  • Could you spot a loan shark? 16 March 10.30 – 12. Book here.
  • A loan shark victim’s journey and the part you play. 2 March 10.30 – 12. Book here.
  • Do you understand Credit Unions? 25 February 10.30 – 12. Book here.

Reports, research etc

Stop Loan Sharks – summary report for 2020: The Illegal Money Lending Team’s report is below, and contains facts, figures and case studies. Some of the data is shocking, for example:

  • 91% of borrowers said that they were in a state of worry, stress,
    depression or severe anxiety because of their involvement with a
    loan shark
  • 56% said that they had been abused verbally
    and/or threatened with physical harm (or actually harmed) by the
    loan shark.
  • 57% of victims believed the loan shark to be a friend at the point of borrowing
  • 37.5% of respondents claiming benefits were on Universal Credit – an increase on 2019

Read more:

The IMLT have also launched a recognition scheme. This is a self-assessment appraisal that you can complete in partnership with the team – the guidance booklet contains information about the scheme and information about achieving your accreditation with the Stop Loan Sharks Team. If you are interested, please contact: Lin Fisher.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service report: This is a Q&A document which covers the questions asked at an online event in December 2020, with a focus on recovery plans, progress in civil, family and tribunals jurisdictions, and the challenges being faced during the pandemic. Read more here.

Inclusion at work – perspectives on LGBT+ working lives: This CIPD research report explores LGBT+ experiences of work, from conflict and wellbeing to job outcomes, and finds that LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. Read more here.

Funding

Rosa and Smallwood Trust: The Women Thrive Fund is distributing grants of up to £40,000 to specialist women’s organisations across the UK. Organisations should be working to enable women and girls to improve their mental health and wellbeing and/or improve their financial resilience.

Organisations can apply for:

  • Grants of up to £15,000 with a turnover of £200,000 inclusive
  • Grants of up to £40,000 with a turnover of £200,001 – £999,999.

They can also apply for an additional 25% of their grant request for work which will strengthen their organisation. Funding is available to spend until December 2022. The deadline for applications to the Women Thrive Fund is 5:00pm on Thursday March 25th.  Read more here.

The Magic Little Grants Fund will open on 1 March. Grants of £500 will be offered under a number of themes including mental wellbeing, relieving poverty, and supporting marginalised groups. Read more here.