We've all become rather used to bad news this year, but today we'd like to tell you about a team of people who've been working hard behind the scenes to do some good. Rachel, Jonathan, Paul, Kiri and Helen are from our External Affairs team, and they work with industries and the Government to make life fairer for people on low incomes. We asked them to share some highlights from the year.
Rachel Gregory, Social Policy Manager
Throughout 2020, CAP has been championing change at government and regulatory level to prevent problem debt and make sure support is there for everyone who needs it. Since January we've been part of achieving 18 different policy changes! These span consumer credit, justice policies, welfare and utilities, and include some major wins such as a new Simple Payment Plan that halves the upfront cost of a new TV Licence for people on low incomes and the first increases to benefits for over four years.
COVID-19 brought new priorities, and we’ve been working hard to help policy makers understand who has been hardest-hit, and what support they need. Council Tax is one of the biggest types of debt we see at CAP, so we worked with others in the debt advice sector and MPs to press the Government on how they would support people to repay rather than pursuing enforcement as normal. Local Authorities have since been allowed to budget Council Tax deficits over the next three years to allow for more flexible payment plans. There’s more to do, and we continue to press for more progress in the months and year ahead.
Jonathan Shaw, Creditor Relationship Manager
March saw a flurry of activity across the finance industry! The response of the credit industry has been incredibly positive and proactive throughout the pandemic and we’re pleased to see the length creditors have gone to to support their most vulnerable customers. It’s been great to attend the weekly Money Advice Liaison Group to check in with other advice agencies and creditors too.
We’ve worked more and more closely with firms across the industry to ensure the experiences of our clients are being heard ...even speaking with Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England about what our clients are facing during COVID-19.
Working from home has naturally proved a huge challenge for everyone - but it’s also brought great opportunities for us to work differently now, and in the future. For our communications with creditors, that means more check-ins/catch ups and looking at more efficient ways of communicating.
Paul Walmsley, Energy Relationship Manager
2020 has been a strange year indeed, but one full of optimism for me working in the Energy sector. A massive piece of work we delivered early on was our report A dark place, which spoke up on the subject of self-disconnection and rationing from our clients’ perspective. A shocking number of people have gone without essentials due to the affordability of energy, and this is something we’ve been starting to champion. It comes as a welcome sign that Ofgem have started to put things in place to monitor self-disconnection, particularly among vulnerable energy consumers, as winter hits.
The impact of COVID-19 on energy customers will be lasting. That’s why we’re incredibly grateful for the partner companies we’ve worked with so far this year in bringing emergency assistance to CAP clients who are really struggling with their energy. In association with the Fuel Bank Foundation, we’ve managed to support clients with well over £6,000 in emergency fuel vouchers when they desperately needed it. This sort of help is more accessible than ever: built-into our frontline services to make sure it is reaching the right people at the right time.
Kiri Saunders, Water & Communications Relationship Manager
Like most workforces across the UK, ‘business as usual’ was thrown out the window in late March. Since then, we’ve been working hard to understand how COVID-19 is impacting CAP clients and what the wider industry is doing to help. We launched a new project to hear more about the challenges low income households are facing during this time. The project included interviews, polling CAP clients and making films to showcase the reality to decision makers. This information, along with our data collection, has helped us ask for change that will help those most affected.
The issue of digital exclusion has really been highlighted during COVID-19, and whilst we’ve not seen a solution yet - the good news is that this topic is very much back on the table. On the water front (no pun intended), it’s been encouraging to see suppliers working tirelessly to roll out new measures of support for customers and we have been part of the discussions to ensure this support makes a real impact for people.
Helen Webb, National External Partnerships Manager
We are blessed to have some great national referral partners. It’s through these partnerships that we're able to offer CAP’s help to many people across our nation.
This year 3.2 million people signed on for Universal credit between March and June. Our referral partnership with DWP Jobcentre Plus has meant that we can offer hope to some of those people: not just debt help but also help via our group services.
People like Carla, a victim of domestic violence, left alone to care for her children; she had no money and no food at all. The bills had all been put into her name and she had a lot of debt, to the point that she thought that she might kill herself.
She saw a CAP leaflet at the Jobcentre plus, took it home and called the number; she thought someone would just listen to her story but she didn’t think anyone could help her. The great news is that we were able to help: the local CAP Debt Centre Manager visited her home and gave her foodbank vouchers, as well as helping her sort out her debts and paperwork. Now she and her children are happy, they always have enough food, they all love going to church and they have many friends there.
Working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus means that we can help many people like Carla every year.
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