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New phone service launched to help as Suffolk sees 75% rise in Universal Credit claims

PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 08:30 01 October 2020

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Ipswich and Lead for the Suffolk Advice Alliance. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Ipswich and Lead for the Suffolk Advice Alliance. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Suffolk has seen a shocking 75% rise in Universal Credit claims since the start of lockdown while 100,000 people in the county remain on furlough - leading to concerns about spiralling debt and housing issues.

In response to this, a new phone line launches today which will offer residents advice on debt, benefits, housing and employment.

The service will be funded by Suffolk Public Sector Leaders and has been developed by Suffolk-wide partners on the Collaborative Communities Covid-19 Board, which is part of the Suffolk Resilience Forum.

It is estimated that the number of people claiming Universal Credit in Suffolk has increased by 75% - approximately 24,000 people - since March and there has been a 238% increase in the amount of food handed out to single adults and families from Suffolk’s foodbanks.

There are also 104,000 people still on furlough - with fears many will face redundancy as the scheme comes to an end.

Chrissie Geeson, chairman of the Collaborative Communities Covid-19 Board and Head of Localities and Partnerships at Suffolk County Council, said: “More than ever it is essential that people who find themselves in difficulties - many for the first time - know that there is somewhere to go for help.

“This service is non-judgemental, impartial and fully clued-up on what help is out there so that people find the right solution.

“I think it’s important to add that this service is for everyone – you do not need to be facing extreme hardship or severe financial challenges.

“No matter how small or trivial you may think your problem is, we can help.”

She added: “We recognise that a lot of callers might be reaching out for support for the first time because of the impact that coronavirus has had.”

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Citizens Advice Suffolk Alliance, which includes the eight Citizens Advice Bureaus across Suffolk, and Anglia Care Trust and Ipswich Housing Action Group will deliver advice and support to people through a single phoneline.

Call handlers will use resources and information from across many Suffolk organisations and specialist providers, which can be tailored to individual needs.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Ipswich and Lead for the Suffolk Advice Alliance, said: “Trained advisers from Citizens Advice and other advice agencies across Suffolk are waiting to hear from people hit by the side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We can help you and your households find a way through the hardships caused.

“Just call us on 0800 068 3131 to get impartial, confidential and free advice to find a way forward.”

Matthew Hicks, Leader at Suffolk County Council, said: “This service has been devised and delivered in a matter of weeks.

“The Suffolk system recognised the changing nature of problems that people found themselves in because of coronavirus and we responded to that need.

“This is true partnership work at it’s best.

“I know it will be huge support to hundreds of people who may otherwise have struggled to know where next to turn.”


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