Cuts to housing benefits caused by the ‘bedroom tax’ and overly long waits to contact the HMRC by telephone are two of the main problems facing clients of Warwick District’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
The branch has produced reports off the back of its annual meeting held in Kenilworth this week, highlighting these issues and others which people are struggling with across the district.
A report by the branch on the impact of welfare reforms on its clients says: “We know from anecdotal evidence that Warwick District Citizens Advice Bureau (WDCAB) clients are presenting with more multi-stranded and complex debt and benefits issues, and that the cumulative effect of the recent economic crisis, the rising cost of living and government austerity measures including welfare reforms have led to an increased difficulty making ends meet.
“Over the last four years WDCAB has seen priority debts become a bigger issue, with rent and council tax arrears creeping up the list of the most common debt problems for WDCAB clients and emergency action to deal with possession and eviction action becoming more frequent.
“In some cases it is evident that particular welfare reforms have led to immediate, tangible reductions in income and therefore hardship, stress and anxiety and, in some cases, debt for clients.
“However, there are other trends where, due to the number of factors at play, it can be difficult to pinpoint which changes in the economic and welfare landscape have had precisely which effect.
“Therefore much of the evidence we have is in the form of general trends and statistics which indicate a correlation rather than a concrete identification of cause and effect between welfare reforms and hardship, increases in problem priority debt, repossession action, homelessness and so on.”
Limited council tax reduction and issues with claiming employment and support allowance, personal independence payments and tax credits were among the most common cases dealt with by the bureau in the last 12 months.
Manager Aidan Knox said there are also major problems for clients who need to contact HMRC by telephone.
He said: “The national research confirms our own experience. Time and time again we are seeing people who know they need to update HMRC on their tax or circumstances but are really struggling to get through on the phone. If a person can’t update HMRC about their tax credit circumstances they may not get all of the support available or instead are overpaid which can cause debts further down the line.”
The calls are charged at the same rate as a standard landline call which means if a person is waiting 47 minutes it could cost them £4.66.
The WDCAB is also warning that the roll-out of Universal Credit – which began this month - and changes to tax credits could mean waiting times will further soar.