A Citizens Advice leader in Hartlepool say benefits claimants are struggling to survive while they await the outcome of appeals.
Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau says more and more sick and disabled people are getting into debt while they wait for an answer from officials for their Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims.
Research found some claimants are left without money as they wait between six and 14 weeks for the outcome to a second opinion from benefits chiefs.
And the advice service says switching claimants to Jobseeker’s Allowance while they wait for a decisions is costing taxpayers almost £30 million a year.
Joe Michna, manager of Hartlepool CAB, said:
“We see very many people coming to us with problems about Employment and Support Allowance.
“The mandatory reconsideration process (review process) is leaving people desperately battling living costs.
“The system is confusing and many people do not wish to claim Jobseekers Allowance pending the outcome of their review request as they do not consider they are fit for work.
“To claim Jobseekers Allowance a person must be fit for work.
“People we advise cannot see the logic of claiming Jobseekers Allowance when they are challenging a decision on their medical fitness for work.
“We’ve seen increases in personal debt as people fight to get by.”
Changes to the rules on getting a second opinion came into force last June in an attempt to improve the process by making decisions quicker and better communicated.
But a Citizens Advice survey of 200 of its advisors found an increase in claimants contesting fit for work decisions, difficulties in claimants being able to contact the Department of Work and Pensions and problems due to delays.
Mr Michna added:
“We need to see as p urgent financial help now for people caught in the appeals process.
“We are joining the national Citizens Advice campaign to have the current system reformed.
“People should be able to continue to claim ESA until the outcome of their review and subsequent appeal if the decision is not changed after the first stage review.
“Employment and Support Allowance still has a long way to go to prove it is actually fit for purpose.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 06 Mar 2015
Struggling Hartlepool families will see their debts top £10million this year, a charity has predicted.
Bosses at Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) say they are handling 120 new enquiries a week.
The news comes after the town was identified as one of the three worst areas in the region for people facing the threat of eviction.
Bureau manager Joe Michna said the year had seen a sharp rise in the number of people asking for help after relaunching their telephone advice service, out of action for 18 months.
“We have seen a big increase in the number of local residents seeking advice and assistance with both debt and welfare benefit issues,” he said.
“The bureau has simply never been busier.”
Between April 2013 and April 2014, the bureau gave advice and assistance to residents with total combined debts of more than £8million.
Although final figures for the present financial year have not yet been collated, bosses say they expect the total to rise to more than £10million.
The problems facing Hartlepool families were highlighted in December, when the town was identified as an eviction hot-spot, with one in every 104 homes at risk of repossession.
Hartlepool had the third worst rate in the North East, behind only South Tyneside and Newcastle, according to statistics published by homeless charity Shelter.
The average level of personal debt among CAB clients is between £25,000 and £30,000, excluding mortgage liabilities, and particular problems include rent and mortgage arrears, credit card debts, personal and pay day loans and overdrafts.
“We are running an innovative Mental Health Advice and Advocacy Service which is very much in demand and has given advice and assistance to 250 people who have some form of mental health condition”, said Mr Michna.
“We could not provide our service without the help of our key funding bodies and we say a special thanks to the Big Lottery Fund, the Money Advice Service, the Northern Rock Foundation and the Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group for their financial support.”
Anyone who wants financial support and advice can call into the bureau in Park Road between 9.30am and 3pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Telephone advice is available on 01429 408 401 between 9.30am and 3pm on Tuesday and Thursday and the bureau can be contacted via e-mail on email@example.com
or through the website http://www.hartlepool-cab.co.uk
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 27 Feb 2015
More than a third of Hartlepool workers do not earn enough to live on, according to new research.
Figures from the TUC show 34.7 per cent of people in the town are paid less than the living wage – defined as the minimum hourly rate needed for workers to provide for themselves and their family.
And Hartlepool is the worst place in the region for the number of women earning less than the living wage, with 46.7 per cent of female workers taking home less than the minimum £7.85 an hour.
TUC analysis shows nationally one in five jobs nationwide pays under the living wage – leaving more than five million people on less than subsistence pay.
In the North East, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency tops the list of living wage blackspots, followed by Hartlepool, Berwick, Newcastle North and North West Durham.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said:
“In-work poverty is getting worse and it is proof the economy might well work for millionaires at the top, but does nothing to help people on low pay.”
Mr Wright raised the issue of pay inequality in a Commons debate last week in his role as Shadow Minister for Industry, and referred to Hartlepool.
“Almost a quarter of North East workers and nearly half of all part-time staff are not being paid a living wage,” he told MPs.
“It is striking that the people most likely to be in poverty in Britain in the 21st Century are those in work. No-one can honestly suggest that the economy is working well or as productively as it could be when that is the case.
“This country will not achieve our vision of a highly-skilled, well-paid and innovative work force, ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are enjoyed by all in work, if we continue down the present path.
“The taxpayer is having to subsidise, through tax credits and other parts of the welfare state, the failure of many firms to pay a decent wage.”
Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau manager Joe Michna said the centre was dealing with the consequences of low wages.
“These figures come as no surprise,” he said.
“Certainly a large number of our clients, particularly those struggling with their daily needs, would be below what is defined as the living wage.
“We get a lot of people who are on the minimum wage and others who are just above it.”
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said:
“These figures show that huge numbers of working people in the North East are struggling to bring home a wage they can live off.
“Extending the living wage is a vital step towards tackling the growing problem of in-work poverty in parts of the North East – and Britain as a whole.
“Working families have experienced the biggest squeeze on their living standards since Victorian times, and these living wage figures show that women are disproportionately affected.
“Pay has been squeezed at all levels below the boardroom, and the government’s mantra about ‘making work pay’ is completely out of touch with reality.
“The number of living wage employers is growing rapidly and unions are playing their part in encouraging more employers to sign up and pay it.
“But we need to see a far wider commitment to pay the living wage from government, employers and modern wages councils – to drive up productivity and set higher minimum rates in industries where employers can afford to pay their staff more.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 23 Feb 2015
Hundreds of people in Hartlepool have been forced to plead for help after racking up personal debts worth £7.5m in just a year.
Shocking new figures reveal Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau supported 1,500 people with debt and money advice over a 12-month period – with the average debt a staggering £16,000.
Worried officials at the Park Road-based CAB say they are very concerned with the high level of personal debt their clients have, some of which is more than £100,000.
Not everyone in money trouble seeks help or advice from the CAB either so the £7.5m figure – which is similar to previous years – is likely to be even higher.
Personal debt includes everything from credit cards, personal loans, pay-day loans, mortgage and rent arrears, council tax arrears, catalogue debts and bank overdrafts.
The figures relate to the period between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014. In 2012, the figure was around £8m and worried officials say there has been no “let-up”.
Joe Michna, CAB manager, said: “There has been no let up or reduction in the number of people contacting us with debt related problems.
“The debt levels, given that they are average figures, are concerning.
“While the average debt may be £16,000 excluding mortgages, some clients have debts of well over £50,000 when they contact us.
“We deal with clients who have personal debts of everything from a few thousand through to £100,000.”
Officials say the golden rule for those experiencing money trouble is to seek help or advice early.
The CAB offers two services, a Debt Advice Service and a Money Advice Service, which offers help and support from everything from financial planning to budgeting.
CAB staff aim to re-arrange and improve debt-ridden clients’ financial affairs by gathering information on a client’s indebtedness, confirming household income, alerting clients to other potential sources of income, and identifying priority debts.
Once a full and complete picture of a client’s financial situation has been established, the CAB team can help to identify the most appropriate option for dealing with the particular client circumstances which include self-help support packages, negotiations with client creditors and bankruptcy applications.
The debt and money advice services gave advice and assistance to a combined 1,500 clients.
Mr Michna added: “The golden rule for people who have gotten themselves into debt is to seek advice early.
“We are fortunate in that we can offer two services to local people – a full debt advice service and also a money advice service.
“The money advice service can offer advice on budgeting, financial planning and income maximisation.
“We then have our full debt advice service which offers advice and assistance with debt relief orders, bankruptcy and individual voluntary arrangements as well arranging repayment plans with creditors.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 16 July 2014