Change of CEO
Sally Pickering, our Chierf Officer has recently given notice that she will leaving Citizens Advice to move into freelance consultancy work. Sally said "Taking the charity forward over the past four years has been an enjoyable challenge but, now that there is a stable and excellent team of staff, volunteers and trustees in place, secure funding for the immediate future and an exciting Business Plan agreed , it feels like the right time to move on to seek new challenges".
The CEO post is being advertised this week with the aim of a new CEO being in place by September. Sally will have a phased departure, reducing her hours from mid-June but continuing part-time over the summer to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.
Where do you do go for support when you've always thought you'd never need any?
Here's the story of Julie, who came to Citizens Advice for help earlier this year....
Like so very many people, there was a time when I took my good health for granted, especially my mental health. I had always been a strong person and someone to whom other people could turn for support. I never stopped to think how vulnerable I might become, when my own life’s trials began to pile up insidiously upon me, one by one.
So it was that, during my middle years, I found myself in a position whereby a combination of life events had not only taken the wind out of my sails, but had completely turned my life upside down. A disabling chronic pain condition, which I was struggling to manage; a new job in a department which was experiencing enormous pressures; then, to top it all, three unexpected bereavements of very close family members within a few months; all came together and served to debilitate me in a way I had never known before. I felt that the ground was crumbling beneath me and I just didn’t understand what was happening.
It started quite subtly, with time off work because I was experiencing physical symptoms when struggling to cope with pain on a daily basis. Over time, I found myself in a downward spiral of pain, exhaustion and depression, and was eventually signed off work by Occupational Health. There then followed some very difficult months at home: continued depression, anxiety with panic attacks which led me to be unable to leave the house at times, elements of paranoia, a total lack of energy whereby I couldn’t even rise up from the sofa for hours on end to do anything purposeful for my husband or family. Added to which, lack of exercise, and craving for sugar to give me some energy, also led to a weight gain of nearly three stone in a year. I was almost unrecognisable as the fit, healthy, positive, hard-working achiever I used to be.
My ill health continued over the year and, sadly, I was never able to return to my position at work. I lost my source of income, as my contract with my long-term employer was eventually terminated via the Capability Procedure. They assured me, however, that my condition wasn’t permanent and that there was, therefore, no need for them to release my occupational pension prematurely. Great emphasis was also placed upon assuring me that they would do everything in their power to support me back into work when I felt ready to return. Feeling very ill and vulnerable, I fully believed them, mainly because I felt that I had always been a hard-working and loyal employee who deserved to be looked after.
It took many years before I regained my confidence within the working environment, and that probably only happened because I was lucky enough to have been supported by a local, private organisation who believed in me and in my abilities. I am eternally grateful to them for that belief.
Finally, the time came when I felt that I was able to pick up my career again and return to my former employer and so I applied for a position with them. I was delighted to hear that I had been successful at interview and I so looked forward to returning to my previous level of work! All the usual formalities were put in place and all that was awaited was a fitness report from their Occupational Health Department, before we could agree upon a start date. I don’t remember even being asked to come for an examination, or meeting with a doctor, but to my utter amazement, the offer of the position was subsequently withdrawn because of that report. Apparently, they considered that I would never have the physical health which would enable me to fulfil the duties of the position; neither were they able to put anything in place which would help me cope with my chronic pain condition in order to fulfil those duties.
I was really hurt and felt very confused. How could it be that I was fit enough not to have my occupational pension released on the grounds of ill health, yet unfit for employment? Also, what had happened to all the assurances that they would help me back into employment as soon as I felt that I was ready to return? These reasons seemed to me to be not only unfair but discriminatory, and so I began to seek help in putting a case together against my former employer.
This was when Citizens Advice really came into its own, as I just couldn’t have considered such an undertaking without their support. They were amazing at building up my confidence and guiding me through the paperwork at each stage and, when they felt they could assist me no longer due to the need for legal expertise, they put me in touch with a firm of solicitors who took on my case on, on a “no win, no fee” basis. Of course, I knew that there would be a penalty to pay for my health, in standing up for what I believed to be right, but it was worth it as my case was eventually settled out of court. It was the principle involved that counted to me, not the small financial compensation.
My case also led on to some changes in procedure within that organisation which will, hopefully, stop others finding themselves in the same position as myself in the future. Also, I was eventually able to secure the release of my occupational pension on the grounds of ill health, albeit at a much lower rate than it would have been if they had agreed to its release before terminating my employment.
It’s a shame that any prospective employee has to resort to legal proceedings in circumstances such as this but, if it weren’t for Citizens Advice how would our voices be heard?
Help offered with Universal Credit
RESIDENTS are being offered a helping hand ahead of the roll-out of Universal Credit which will bring significant changes.
It is a new benefit which helps people on a low income or not in work meet their living costs and it combines a range of benefits into a single monthly payment and we are helping people get ready for Universal Credit as it rolls out in full across the area.
Although the charity continues to ask the government to pause the roll out until problems with the benefit are fixed, it is set to start from October 4th.
The credit is only available currently to single jobseekers but this year parents, couples and people who can’t work because of their health who make a new claim will also receive it.
We are highlighting what changes are due to take effect, namely around how Universal Credit is paid, so that people can prepare before applying for the new benefit.
The three changes people need to be aware of are :
Universal Credit payments are paid monthly, rather than weekly
Payments will go straight into a claimant's bank account. This means people may need to set up their own standing orders for expenses like rent
New Universal Credit applications, and any change circumstances, need to be made online
With most people facing a six week wait for their first payment, we are encouraging people to apply for an advance payment (loan to be paid back) if they’re concerned about meeting their living costs.
Of the nearly 4,000 people we helped last year, more than 1,200 people raised over 2,800 benefit issues. Problems with benefits are always some of the most common problems that we see and this is expected to increase.
Sally Pickering Chief Officer of Citizens Advice in Stroud District, said: “Universal Credit is the biggest ever change to the benefits system, so it’s important people get support while they get used to the new system.
“Most of the queries we’ve helped with so far have focused on people wanting to know how Universal Credit works and how to apply, and we’d expect that to continue.
“We can help people at every stage of the application process – from guiding someone through the online application form, or offering budgeting advice to help people best manage their monthly payment.
“Anyone with a question or cconcern should get in touch with us at the earliest chance on 0808 800 0510 so we can help them make preparations for being on Universal Credit.”
We Are Recruiting
We have a vacancy for an Advice Session Supervisor.
Please click on the links below to find out more.
Advice Session Supervisor Advert
Advice Session Supervisor Job Description
The closing date for this vacancy is 9.00 am on Wednesday 13th November 2019.
Research shows mental health professionals are fighting fires, rather then delivering treatment
New research published today has found that mental health professionals are being forced to deal with patients’ wider problems rather than treating their illness, as more and more of them struggle with issues such as debt and benefits.
A report by the Money and Mental Health Institute reveals mental health professionals - including psychiatrists and mental health nurses - feel they have to tackle these urgent practical issues before they can focus on their patients’ mental health. The practical tasks being done by mental health professionals include:
Filling in benefits paperwork
Making telephone calls or writing letters to creditors
Accompanying service users to advice appointments
Giving practical advice about budgeting and managing debts.
The findings come as Citizens Advice releases new research showing the number of people turning to the charity for help who report having a mental health problem has increased by 9% in the past year.
The new report also shows that people with mental health problems are more likely to face a web of complex issues, each dealing with an average of five problems ranging from money worries to problems at work.
Debt is a particular problem and Citizens Advice finds that of people with mental health problems who it supports:
A third need advice on debts, compared with a fifth of all people it helps.
Almost a third (31%) are finding it difficult to manage financially, compared with fewer than 1 in 9 (12%) of the general UK population.
More than two thirds (67%) have needed advice on multiple debts in the same year, compared to less than half (45%) of people the charity helps who don’t have mental health problems. These issues are especially evident for ‘priority debt’, such as rent or council tax, putting them at greater risk of eviction, or visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison.
The charities have joined forces to warn that, in the face of increased consumer borrowing, the introduction of Universal Credit, and ongoing issues around insecure work, it’s more important than ever that people with mental health problems can get the help they need to tackle the complex challenges life can throw at them.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“Complex issues like managing debts or dealing with employment problems can be so much harder to cope with if you have a mental health problem, but left unaddressed they can undermine treatment and make it harder to recover - creating a vicious cycle that is incredibly difficult to escape from.
“Practical advice and support can be invaluable to people’s financial and mental wellbeing, but this burden should not fall on mental health professionals who are already overstretched.”
Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said:
“Financial worries can hugely exacerbate mental health conditions and vice versa – the two are often intrinsically linked. Yet we’re all too aware that the NHS has only limited resources. Specialist mental health professionals spending precious clinical time on practical tasks, like filling in benefits forms or calling energy providers, is a waste of those resources. It’s understandable though, often people with nowhere else to turn in a crisis – such as when they've not received their benefits, or the bailiffs are on the phone, get in touch with their compassionate mental health professional – who feels duty bound to help.
“Yet this isn’t joined up. We need commissioners to make sure that specialist financial help and support is speedily available to people using mental health services, allowing highly-trained and let’s be honest, expensive, mental health professionals to focus on the day job of treating patients. And we need to help provide training to ensure that the specialists themselves know where to signpost people so they get help quickly."
In its new report ‘Joining the Dots’ Citizens Advice finds that 1 in 3 people (64%) said that receiving practical advice on issues such debt would have helped with their mental health problems. But more than half this number (37%) were not offered practical advice while receiving treatment for their mental health issues.
As these complex problems are left unaddressed it often falls to healthcare professionals to try and help. In ‘Whose job is it anyway?’ Money and Mental Health finds that mental health professionals acknowledge that they don’t have the appropriate training and don't believe they are the best people to help with these issues, but feel they can't focus on a patient's mental health until they are resolved.
Citizens Advice and Money and Mental Health are calling on commissioners to provide good quality specialist advice to people using mental health services, to free-up professionals to deliver the mental health support they are trained to provide and ultimately make savings to the taxpayer.
Locally, Citizens Advice Stroud & Cotswold District is working with the 2Gether Mental Health Trust to provide money advice to people with mental health problems in a year-long pilot project, supported by Martin Lewis. Sally Pickering, CEO of the local Citizens Advice charity, said “After only a few months we’re already gathering compelling evidence of the benefits of appropriate and timely money advice in helping improve people’s mental health. We will be sharing this with local commissioners and hope to work with them to ensure the ongoing sustainability of this much-needed specialist service.”