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Preston & District Citizens Advice Bureau – Working with British Gas Energy Trust

Preston CAB is an independent multi-generic organisation providing free confidential and impartial advice. We have a recognised brand and a wealth of on-line, translated resources to hand. We are experienced in meeting the diverse needs of equally diverse communities and we have the following languages within our workforce: Gujarat, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Polish. We have many years’ experience of volunteer development and working with people who live in the most deprived areas. There is a 30-40% BME population within the most deprived wards, but this is a growing and changing picture.

However, what remains unchanged are the high levels of food, utilities and fuel poverty, high unemployment, low educational achievements, poor physical and mental health issues, disability, high dependency on benefits and debt. We are the only organisation that has the longevity, reputation and experience in the wide range of issues disadvantaged people face. We acknowledge that people experiencing different levels of financial exclusion invariably experience other social and personal challenges.

The partnerships we developed through the British Gas Energy Trust project (BGET) has created a strong sense of local identity and relationship to our local communities recognizing the need to work effectively together.  We are committed to a coordinated and strategic approach to collaborative working to ensure the delivery of successful project outcomes sharing considerable expertise and specialisms and investing time in developing stronger, more resilient, and sustainable community services.

We provide a Lancashire wide service through multi-channels, including before the pandemic face to face; and since March 2020 have developed our telephone, email and webchat services to ensure accessibility for all client groups across Lancashire.

Our BGET project has built up a proud reputation as a professional, reliable service  and is recognised as a ‘centre of excellence’ by one of our major partners, Lancashire County Council, and before the pandemic we were working closely with them to develop a Fuel Voucher scheme, administering emergency fuel vouchers to individuals throughout Lancashire through the Crisis Support (previously the Care and Urgent Needs Scheme).  This became more vital during the continuous lockdowns throughout Lancashire during the pandemic.

At the beginning of January 2021, we were again approached by Lancashire County Council to assist them in the administration of emergency fuel vouchers through the Lancashire County Council Covid Winter Grants Scheme.   The scheme was being rolled out from January until March 2021 – we have set up referral schemes with the Family & Adult Services to provide emergency fuel vouchers to families in need again working throughout Lancashire.

The approach from the County Council to provide this service was due to the success of the scheme through the Crisis Support and initially we have agreed to take up to 30 referrals per week.  Neither of these schemes attract additional funding for the Service but is an opportunity for our BGET project to be promoted across the County.

The BGET project is unique in that all clients referred to the project from both sources are offered a follow up appointment with an adviser to provide help and assistance with their financial problems, including benefit advice, energy advice, switching tariffs etc.

Through our current services we identify client debt, setting up payment plans, prepare financial statements giving detailed information on income, expenditure, priority debts, including water, fuel, council tax, rent & mortgage arrears, utilities etc. and non-priority debts negotiating with suppliers, We provide information and practical support on a one to one basis with claiming benefits, maximising income, budgeting, debt advice, check fuel bills, negotiate with suppliers to manage or reduce  debt, assist with applications for grants to pay off arrears, assist with grant applications for white goods, information and help with applications to energy assistance schemes.

The benefit check will ensure all benefit entitlements are correct, and assistance will be given to claim any identified benefit entitlement The additional benefits we can offer is referrals to our own specialist money advice caseworkers to pick up on multiple debt issues, including applications for Debt Relief Orders and bankruptcy, referrals to our own Help to Claim – Universal Credit.

Many of those who access our Service are vulnerable people, with complex and chaotic lifestyles, physical and mental disabilities who will require longer term support to make improvements to their financial situation and in turn improve their general health and wellbeing. An overall aim is to target the hard to reach, fuel poor, vulnerable households and those who have existing health problems through financial interventions including benefits advice, energy advice, debt management and general support interventions.

Judi Pearson
CEO
Preston & District Citizens Advice Bureau

 

February 2021