As soon as it became clear that the Coronavirus restrictions would have a serious impact on people’s daily lives, Citizens Advice nationally asked all advisers to identify cases where clients raised issues influenced by the Coronavirus restrictions. At Citizens Advice Richmond we asked our advisers to highlight issues that needed to be followed up.
What have we done to uncover the problems and devise solutions?
In March we started to assemble all the cases identified by our advisers and to provide monthly reports for Citizens Advice’s national team on emerging issues with relevant case references and recommendations wherever possible on the problems highlighted.
The main issues that we have highlighted so far are:
The vulnerability of lodgers
Three of our clients who were lodgers were evicted, sometimes abruptly, during the Covid-19 restrictions. Lodgers are particularly at risk of eviction because they can be evicted without court action. Perhaps for that reason lodgers have not been included in the Government’s temporary ban on evictions. There is a strong argument for extending the ban to cover lodgers. Councils who are receiving funds from the Government to take homeless people off the streets should receive additional funds from the Government to help evicted lodgers to find rooms where they can be safe in hotels until they can find, and pay for, more permanent accommodation
DWP delays in processing Universal Credit claims
The huge increase in UC claims as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions is causing delay not just in the acceptance of new claims but also in getting claims restarted. We believe that DWP should be granted additional resources to:
- cope with the knock-on effects of delays due to the sudden increase in claims, which are causing financial hardship to some of our clients
- apply changes in UC rules correctly and
- tackle badly needed improvements in the current operation of the scheme, not least for disabled claimants.
Problems with the operation of the Government’s Job retention scheme
We have identified four emerging issues with the operation of the Government’s scheme, called the Furlough scheme, which offers to pay a large proportion of the wages of employees who cannot go out to work because of the Coronavirus lockdown and cannot work from home.
- dismissal without notice: We found that some clients who had worked for their employers for only a few months or less than two years were dismissed after the lockdown and were given no explanation when they asked for one and were not paid the notice pay and accrued holiday pay to which they were entitled.
- Zero hours contracts dismissal: Although in theory the Furlough Scheme is available for employees on zero hours contracts, in practice it is easier for employers who are shutting down their businesses temporarily just to offer no work and no pay, so that these employees will become entirely dependent on Universal Credit. This happened to one of our clients.
- Private healthcare companies: Problems have emerged for three of our clients because they have been working for private healthcare companies that also do work for the NHS. The problem arises because the Guidance (but not the Treasury Direction which is the law) says that private companies that do work for which they receive public funding for staff costs are expected to pay their staff and not put them on the Job Retention scheme. However, there is an exception where organisations which are not primarily funded by the government can be covered by the Scheme for staff who cannot be redeployed to assist with the Coronavirus response. This suggests that some of our clients who were paid reduced salaries should have been furloughed.
- Protecting key workers: For four of our clients there was an unresolved conflict between the need for key workers to continue going out to work and the risk of becoming infected with Covid-19, with serious results for themselves or vulnerable members of their families. In all such cases where there is a demonstrable risk of serious illness from infection, we consider that putting the worker on furlough should be the solution.