Case Study: ‘David and Maggie’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Winter Hardship Fund

“I was feeling pretty low,” says David, “there was a hell of a lot of family pressure and I was depressed.” Unable to pay their bills, David and Maggie* were forced to watch their children go cold and hungry.

David and Maggie are a professional couple with two young children. David was about to begin his new job as a hospitality manager when the Coronavirus lockdown closed the business. As he hadn’t started the job David wasn’t entitled to furlough, leaving them to survive on Maggie’s income alone. Maggie’s hours are casual and her pay erratic, making their benefit claim complicated and often leaving them with no money at all.

The family live in a rented, post-war house. It’s damp and draughty with gaps around the window frames. David and Maggie used to keep the heating on all the time to compensate but without David’s income they could no longer afford to. One of the children has a health condition which is made worse in winter due to damp in the bedroom.

The couple built up sizable debts with their utility companies, who installed prepayment meters as a result, making heating even more expensive. When David and Maggie finally contacted Citizens Advice they were out of food and had 20 pence of electricity left, the gas meter was in minus. The family couldn’t afford to eat, shower or keep warm.

Our adviser, Cherrie, spoke to the couple. After referring them to a food bank for an immediate delivery, she found them eligible for the DWP’s Winter Fuel Hardship scheme. She arranged for the delivery of warm winter bedding, thick duvets and pillows for all the family.

“Cherrie was just great,” says David, “she dealt with everything perfectly.”

The Winter Fuel Hardship scheme paid off hundreds of pounds owed to their utility companies, clearing their entire debt. This allowed the couple to switch energy providers, escaping the expensive pre-payment metres and moving back to monthly bills. Cherrie found an energy company on the Citizens Advice energy comparison tool, saving the family nearly £100 per month on fuel bills.

Our adviser then worked with the family on their income, looking a Discretionary Housing Payment due to temporary loss of income due to Covid-19. She also looked at Council Tax support and Debt Assessment along with other ways to help the family, such as the Warm Home Discount.

A family who found themselves pushed to the edge are now able to live a relatively normal life, David and Maggie no longer have to watch their children go cold and hungry.

“Things are better now,” says David. “Citizens Advice have lightened the load for us all.”

*not their real names

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Jules Powis

I’ve written for BBC radio, science podcasts and video journalism plus online content for a wide range of clients in both the commercial and public sector.