Cost of living crisis money and debt advice
In response to the increase in the cost of living, Sheffield City Council, community, voluntary and faith organisations are creating more access to information, advice and support for anyone facing financial hardship in the city.
The council is providing help, advice, and support at www.sheffield.gov.uk/costofliving about money issues, energy costs, paying bills, applying for financial support and the role of family centres, community buildings and libraries as ‘Welcome Places’. It has also set up a community support helpline of 0114 2734567.
Citizens Advice Sheffield (CAS)'s trained advisers are providing in depth support to their clients to enable them to access local funding. Part of their income maximisation and debt advice process is going through a checklist of the big 5 key schemes:
- Local Assistance Scheme
- Council Tax Support and Council Tax Discounts/Exemptions
- Discretionary Housing Payment
- Council Tax Hardship Scheme
- Household Support Fund
CAS said: "We want to make sure that those who are eligible for these schemes are able to access them. This might include people who are already getting some benefits but are not getting everything they're entitled to. Financial support is available so please reach out if you are struggling."
£421m has been made available to councils in England to support those most in need because of the rising cost of living. This funding covers the period 1 October 2022 to 31 March 2023 and local authorities have discretion on exactly how this funding is used within the government’s guidance.
The council’s Income Management and Financial Inclusion Team and CAS have already helped many Sheffield residents who have been relieved to receive support through the Household Support Fund.
Dawn from near Hillsborough
Dawn is one of those residents. When one of the council’s Income Officers contacted her to ask about her rent arrears, Dawn explained that she could not pay their rent as within a 3-week period her family had experienced 2 bereavements and then her husband was also diagnosed with a serious illness. Dawn and her husband were both unable to work and this meant that living on sick pay was affecting their ability to pay their bills. Even though Dawn’s employer had paid her sick pay, it wasn’t enough to cover everything.
The Income Officer filled in a hardship fund application for Dawn and said that there would be no more rent reminder letters; they would be put on hold for the time being. Dawn applied for, and was awarded, financial support from the Household Support Fund. She is now working again and looking after her husband after his operation.
Dawn said: “To receive the funding felt just brilliant. I started crying. I just couldn’t believe it. It was such a relief to get help to pay the rent.”
Linda from near Westfield
Linda has a similar story. At a Local Area Committee meeting in a local community centre, the focus was on how the council is tackling the cost of living crisis. At the end of the speeches the public were invited to ask questions at the cost of living stall about the help that is available. Linda went to the stall and told council officers that she was in debt and struggling to keep up with her debtors requests to pay. She didn’t know where to turn and said that sometimes she didn’t have any money left for food. A call from the council was arranged for the next day to discuss all her issues and look for some help.
After the call, a referral was made straightaway for specialist debt advice from Citizens Advice Sheffield (CAS) and a referral was also made to the local foodbank. CAS has been able to reduce the amount of money that Linda is paying for her debts, and she has been helped to apply for a Hardship Support Fund grant to help with her bills.
Linda said: “I am so happy with the way that things have worked out. I still feel anxious, but I am working with CAS and have been to the foodbank 3 times. I would say to anyone who is in a situation like I was to just ask for help. Don’t wait, just ask.”
Lucy, the CAS adviser who helped Linda apply for the household support fund said: "Linda was typical of many of our clients who are struggling to afford their most basic costs due to the level of deductions that come off her benefits. In her case, this was due to a DWP overpayment being clawed back, but deductions can be made towards rent arrears, advance budgeting loans or court fines. The bottom line is that these deductions mean that clients are trying to live on very small incomes and their situations spiral downwards."
Kirsty and Matt from CAS talk here about the help they provide:
- Citizens Advice Sheffield’s trained advisers provide free, tailored information and advice to help people find a way forward during the rising cost of living. Alongside generalist advice, CAS also provides specialist advice on benefits, debt, housing, immigration, and employment rights. The service is completely free, independent and confidential. https://citizensadvicesheffield.org.uk/. The CAS advice line is on 0808 278 7820.
- Voluntary Action Sheffield is supporting local community action, including the city’s network of welcoming places https://www.vas.org.uk/what-we-do/communitysupportforcostoflivingcrisis/
- The council’s household support fund has been set up to help those who are struggling to afford essentials including food, telephone and broadband and gas and electricity. Anyone who applies for support through this fund will also be offered ‘income maximisation’ support, and if people choose this they will be assessed to see whether they are eligible for other financial support or benefits. Individuals and organisations can also do their own online checking to find out what they are eligible for at https://www.entitledto.co.uk/
- There is a Money Support Guide at Home - Sheffield Money Support Guide and a Worrying About Money leaflet here
- At https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/benefits/help-money-issues there is more information about the Local Assistance Scheme, Council Tax support, the Council Tax Hardship Scheme, Housing Benefit, carers’ benefits, the Household Support Fund, Pension Credit and debt advice including National Debtline and Community Legal Advice.
Councillor Terry Fox, Leader of Sheffield City Council, said: “These are difficult times for so many people in Sheffield and across the country and the Government needs to make sure that it doesn’t continue to put so much pressure on local authorities across the country. Many organisations are putting in so much expertise, time, and support to those who need it, and I am so grateful to see the coordinated response that the city is providing for those people.
I will make sure that the council continues to work as hard as it can, with organisations across the city, to support and help ease the impact of the soaring costs we are all experiencing. I call on government to do more, especially when it is saying that energy bills are set to rise again from April next year and that household disposable incomes will fall by 7%, leaving everyone with less over the next 2 years.
We’ve put in place a range of measures and support and I’d urge anyone who is worrying about how they are going to manage, to contact us. You are not alone; many people are worried about paying their bills through the winter and beyond and we want you to feel supported. We have people who are trained to listen, advise on what support is available to you and provide what you need.”
National resources and online support
- This cost of living guide outlines both the local and national organisations that are working to help with this crisis in relation to money, saving money, housing and the South Yorkshire Community Foundation’s Cost of Living Fund.
- The Government’s Moneyhelper website also provides advice for people facing financial difficulties and the Stop Loan Sharks team have a 24-hour helpline (0300 555 2222) and online chat to enable people to report Loan Sharks and receive confidential support.
- The Money Saving Expert website has information about how to reduce your spending as costs rise and Step Change provide advice and help for people who are in dept, including an online debt tool.