Citizens Advice Bureau in Chorley dealing with hundreds a week struggling with energy costs

"It's going to get worse" were the words echoed by Citizens Advice Manager for Lancashire West Nick Higham, 60, on the rising cost of living and soaring energy prices which he believes will have a detrimental effect on not only people's mental health, but their quality of life.

By Emma Downey
Monday, 21st February 2022, 3:45 pm

With over 200 calls a day to the advice line, the bureau based in Chorley is in desperate need of volunteers to cope with the growing number of people needing assistance.

"We are a volunteer-led organisation but we don't have that many at present. Around 30 or so a week helping out. We need more volunteers because of the workload.

"It doesn't matter what age group as long as they have a desire to help others."

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Michael and Anna are here to help.

Many households are already under a range of financial pressures, including wage cuts or freezes during Covid and a reduction in Universal Credit and the end of furlough.

Explaining that once the cost of living rises in April, things will only get worse, Nick added: "We are dealing with hundreds of people a week who are struggling with their energy costs.

"Since we have been operating via telephone, email and video calls we've seen an increase in the number of clients we can help but we still need more volunteers as we still have a lot of people needing help and we are going to see a lot more people needing help as well.

"With the increase in April we are all going to suffer."

The Citizens Advice in Chorley can help with a range of issues.

Nick, who covers all the offices including ones in West Paddock in Leyland and Fleetwood Market, started just before the pandemic and has spent the past two years supporting people on a range of issues such as debt, housing and employment.

He believes the major issues facing the people of Leyland and Chorley are welfare benefits, housing issues, debt and, off the back of the pandemic, family and relationship issues.

He added: "At the moment we are helping three local authorities with the household support fund - which helps people facing financial hardship apply for a grant for help towards food, energy and essential living costs.

"We are getting hundreds of applications for support with energy costs and we are about to start doing fuel vouchers again via National Citizen's Advice.

Citizens Advice Manager for Lancashire West Nick Higham.

"Food banks - we do quite a few referrals every week and we work closely with Living Waters in Chorley.

"We also refer to Chorley Help the Homeless who do food banks as well."

Has he seen an increase in people coming to the bureau since Covid?

"We see upwards of 10 a week to Living Waters but people can be self referring to other food banks so we don't know for definite as we can't see the overall picture.

Volunteer Michael Scallon, 29, who has worked for the Citizen's Advice Bureau since 2017, said his helping people is his favourite part of the job.

"At the start of Covid people needing our help was quiet. Then when people became furloughed enquiries went up. People being stuck at home with their partners relationship issues were developing, people forced to work reduced hours that couldn't quite meet the rent."

At present, people are not allowed to call in for a face-to-face interaction. However, what the bureau identifies as the more vulnerable, an exception can be made to this rule.

Previous volunteer and now Debt Admin Anna Tomaniak, 35, has worked for the bureau for four years and feels Covid has had an adverse side effect on more people coming needing advice.

"The main debt problems people face are being worried about the cost of living, delays in benefits, reduced benefits and a lot of people have lost their jobs due to Covid.

"There are so many different reasons people come to us such as mental health issues that have not been dealt with and the full on effect from this."

"The cost of living and people being furloughed and wages having went down over the past few years. A lot of people have been redundant as well and have had to take different jobs all of which has contributed to the surge in people coming to us."

The Citizens Advice Bureau is situated on Market Street in Chorley.

She added: "We're here to offer facilities to people but a lot don't know we are here.

"We can help with things such as food bank referrals, helping with housing issues such as offering assistance with the household support fund."

The Citizen's Advice Bureau offers free, confidential and impartial advice on a range topics such as:

Housing

Debt

Employment

Benefits

Discrimination

Law and rights

Tax

Consumer

Immigration and nationality

Family and relationships

Financial capability

Health Education.

Being at the forefront of it all, what would Nick like to see implemented to help people?

"We need more support around the ongoing energy crisis because it is going to affect us all.

"I don't really know what that support is. Do we just keep throwing money at things that we will end up paying it back?"

Anyone struggling can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau on: 0344 245 1294 or visit: www.citizensadvicelancashirewest.org.uk.

Previous volunteer and now debt administrator Anna Tomaniak can help over advice to people suffering with financial constraints.
The Citizens Advice Bureau works with Living Waters Church in Chorley
The Citizens Advice can help with a range of problems.
The cost of fuel continues to soar.