Citizens Advice / Macmillan Case Studies

Case Study: ‘Jerry’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Universal Credit: Help to Claim

“If I’d called Citizens Advice two years ago, I wouldn’t have lost all my savings,” says Jerry.*

Jerry spent his life on the railways as an engineer. It was a job he loved but just a couple of years from retirement, ill health forced him to give it up.

“I was given no advice when I left work and I was too ill to make big decisions at the time,” he says.

Jerry took his pension early but the payments weren’t enough to live on. Rent and bills mostly came out of his savings pot until, after a few short years, the money was gone.

After a lifetime of work, Jerry now had overdue rent, unpaid bills and no food. On the advice of our partners at Age UK, Jerry called Citizens Advice in West Sussex. He asked adviser, Annetta, to be referred to a food bank.

“I was very stressed before I spoke to Annetta,” says Jerry. “I’d just come out of hospital again, I had nothing in the flat and no money coming in for weeks.”

Annetta wanted to do more than provide a box of food, she wanted to know why Jerry was in such dire straits. Still a few years away from a state pension, Annetta helped Jerry apply for Universal Credit. She helped to fill in forms and got them sent to the right places.

Part of Jerry’s illness meant that he was unable to walk properly, so Annetta looked at Employment and Support Allowance. Jerry had been ill for some time so she wrote to Jerry’s doctor and asked for evidence to backdate his claim.

Jerry’s pension meant that his UC claim was rejected. However, Annetta was successful in her ESA claim and Jerry now receives an extra £30 per week on top of his railway pension. Paying the rent had consumed most of Jerry’s life savings, so Annetta successfully helped him apply for Housing Benefit too.

“I’m feeling a lot better now, more relaxed,” says Jerry. “I’ve just come out of hospital again and there’s food in the cupboard and the electric is paid, Annetta really helped.”

*not his real name

Case Study: ‘Elaine’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Universal Credit: Help to Claim

“I tried to work it out myself but I it all got too complicated and I needed some advice,” says Elaine.*

Elaine is a single mum, when her hairdressing company failed during the pandemic, she was uncertain how to claim Universal Credit or how a claim might affect her Working Tax Credit.

Our adviser, Sarah, helped Elaine over phone with some benefit calculations. Elaine discovered that her Tax Credits would end under Universal Credit but that she would receive an extra payment for her school-age son and wouldn’t be worse off.

Elaine expected to receive a redundancy payment with her final wage packet, which Sarah realised would complicate and delay her claim. Sarah advised Elaine to speed up her application by waiting until her last wages payment had been received before applying.

Sarah also advised Elaine to take as little as possible as an advance so that future deductions for repayment didn’t have such a significant impact on her monthly household budget.

“Sarah was a great help on the phone, she sent me loads of information and saved me from getting myself into problems.”

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Robbie’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Windrush campaign

FULL LENGTH VERSION

“I was lost and despondent, not knowing where to go,” says Robbie.* “Feeling really, really low.”

Robbie arrived in England from the Caribbean in 1958 when he was four years old. Although his parents had new UK passports, Robbie remained an undocumented Barbados citizen all his life.

In 2012 Robbie’s employer asked for evidence of his right to work in the UK under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. This was a problem as Robbie had never owned any identification papers, so he set about getting some.

Robbie’s efforts quickly hit a dead end. His application for a passport but was refused because he couldn’t prove who he was. To solve this problem Robbie asked the home Office to reconsider his immigration status but he was turned down for the same reason.

After more than a decade working as a carer, Robbie was not only sacked from his job but also barred from accessing any public services. He was unable to get treatment for his medical condition, unable to get work and the DVLA even refused him a driving licence.

Robbie suffered from depression which, untreated, now began to spiral. Without an income the family home was soon lost. Robbie separated from his disabled wife and three children and, all too quickly, went from family breadwinner to homeless vagrant. “The whole thing was just so overwhelming,” says Robbie.

After spending time in prison, Robbie was released without support. Homeless again, he tried to claim Universal Credit but was refused because he wasn’t a UK citizen. Robbie was getting sick and his untreated depression was fast becoming a severe mental health issue.

After he was found a place in emergency accommodation, Robbie was referred to Citizens Advice by the Home Office under the Windrush Compensation Scheme. Robbie spoke to our adviser, Monica. “When I booked Robbie’s interview, he was so happy,” says Monica. “It showed on his face that this was the first time someone has listened and was willing to take up his case. “

Monica found that Robbie easily met the eligibility criteria for Windrush compensation as he’d lost everything despite having a lawful right to reside in the UK. “I felt uplifted,” says Robbie. “Like a ton of weight had finally been lifted from my shoulders.”

Monica assisted Robbie with his Windrush claim form, she prepared a covering letter for him, collated evidence and submitted everything on his behalf. She kept Robbie informed during every step of the process. “Monica was empathic, interested and helpful, she made it all much easier,” says Robbie.

The Home Office accepted Robbie’s Windrush compensation claim and made a preliminary award of £10,000 with more payments to follow. “I helped ensure that some of the wrong caused to client had been made right,” says Monica.

“Monica kept me fully updated,” says Robbie. She still checks in with me once a month — which is more than the Home Office really.”

Robbie now has all the rights of a UK citizen, the family are reunited and Robbie is looking forward to starting a new job. After suffering a decade of trauma, trapped and unable to prove his own identity, Robbie is still undergoing therapy but life is looking more positive.

“I’m really doing ok now,” says Robbie. “Everything that happened is coming to a close, I’m very happy.”

  • not his real name

CONDENSED VERSION

From the age of four, Robbie* had lived his life as an undocumented Barbados citizen, unable to apply for a UK passport or even a driver’s license. Under the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, Robbie was dismissed from his job as carer, his full-time role for over a decade.

Without Robbie’s income the family home was soon lost. After separating from his wife and their three children, Robbie went from family breadwinner to living on the streets. Without access to the NHS to treat his depression, Robbie’s mental health began to spiral and he would remain homeless for years.

Eventually, Robbie was put in touch with our advisor, Monica. She found that he easily met the eligibility criteria for the Windrush Compensation Scheme. Monica assisted Robbie with forms, collating evidence and submitting documents on his behalf.

The Home Office accepted Robbie’s Windrush claim and made a preliminary award of £10,000 with more payments to follow. Robbie now has all the rights of a UK citizen and with the family reunited, Robbie is looking forward to starting a new job and even has a new flat. He’s now receiving treatment for his depression and life is looking far more positive.

“I’m really doing ok now,” says Robbie. “Everything that happened is coming to a close, I’m very happy.”

*not his real name

Case Study: ‘Suzanne’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Winter Hardship Fund

FULL LENGTH VERSION

“I felt like I’d hit a brick wall and wasn’t really sure which way to turn,” says Suzanne.*

When her parents refused to let them stay in their house any longer, Suzanne and her new baby were made homeless.

She called Citizens Advice and spoke to our adviser Kate, who worked quickly with our partners at the Homeless Prevention Team.

After a period in emergency accommodation, Suzanne was eventually found a private rental. She was grateful for the flat but it was now winter which brought its own problems.

“The flat was never warm, the baby’s room especially was always really cold,” says Suzanne.

The baby slept with Suzanne in her bedroom, but that room too was damp and draughty. Suzanne only had a summer duvet herself and would wake up cold in the night.

Kate successfully referred Suzanne to the Winter Hardship Fund. With the fund Kate purchased some winter clothing for the baby and a warm liner for the pram. She also sourced a thicker duvet for Suzanne.

Kate referred Suzanne to her housing officer for the damp problems and began looking for ways to make property warmer. She obtained a small fuel voucher to help Suzanne pay for heating and even sourced a pair of energy efficient, portable heaters through the Winter Hardship Fund.

“Before I spoke with Kate I was feeling confused, lost and frustrated,” said Suzanne. “But Kate has been so helpful, I have more confidence now. I’m feeling better, more content.”

*not her real name

CONDENSED VERSION #01

“Before I spoke with Kate I was feeling confused, lost and frustrated,” says Suzanne.*

When Suzanne and her new baby were made homeless, she called Citizens Advice and spoke to our adviser, Kate.

Working with our partners, Kate helped Suzanne moved into her own flat in time for Christmas.

Sadly, the flat was damp and draughty. With only a summer duvet both Suzanne and the baby would wake up cold in the night.

Using the Winter Hardship Fund, Kate was able to purchase winter clothing for the baby, energy efficient heaters, a thicker duvet and even a small fuel voucher

“Kate has been so helpful, I have more confidence now. I’m feeling better, more content,” says Suzanne.

*not her real name

CONDENSED VERSION #02

“I felt like I’d hit a brick wall and wasn’t really sure which way to turn,” says Suzanne.*

When Suzanne and her new baby were made homeless, she called Citizens Advice for help.

Our adviser, Kate, worked with our partners to help Suzanne move into her own flat in time for Christmas.

When the flat turned out to be cold and damp, Kate used the Winter Hardship Fund to purchase winter clothing for the baby, energy efficient heaters and a small fuel voucher.

“Kate has been so helpful, I have more confidence now. I’m feeling better, more content,” says Suzanne.

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Yusuf’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — BAME debt advice

“I have to keep optimistic because of the children, but it’s hard. On the way back from the shops today I just started crying.”

Yusuf* is a single parent to three young children, widowed after the unexpected death of his wife, Nour. They are a family in shock, a distressing life event compounded by a financial problems.

With both parents on low wages, there were no savings to cushion the family. With a reduced income, Yusuf and his girls quickly became dependent on food banks to survive.

The Pastor at Yusuf’s church gave him a leaflet about Citizens Advice, Yusuf called and spoke to our adviser Shirley about Nour’s funeral.

“The funeral director told me it will cost around £5,000 but I don’t have that kind of money,” he explained.

Yusuf later talked about how the wait to find Nour’s cause of death was causing the family pain.

“I feel stressed and frustrated, waiting for the call from the hospital,” he said. “I have to take care of the children but my mood goes up and down.”

Shirley spoke to Yusuf about bereavement counselling, for both him and his daughters. She gave him emotional support and some information on local bereavement organisations.

Our adviser also explained how she could help the family apply to the Funeral Expenses Payments scheme, or a partner charity, for help with funeral costs.

Yusuf was then guided through probate and dealing with Nour’s financial affairs. Next Shirley navigated the child benefit system and the Bereavement Support Payment, they even looked at a Council Tax reduction.

Shirley continues to work with Yusuf and is supporting the family emotionally and practically as they come to terms with their loss.

*not his real name

Case Study: ‘Anne’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Help with PIP

“I felt completely overwhelmed,” says Anne*, “full of apprehension.”

Anne is an older woman with a serious health condition. When it came to renew her longstanding PIP claim she simply couldn’t face the application form. Paperwork felt like an insurmountable wall to her so the benefit eventually lapsed, leaving Anne without an income.

Eventually, Anne built up the courage to contact Citizens Advice for help. “They’d helped me before, I knew they could help me again”, she says. Our adviser, Virginia, spent some hours on the phone with Anne as they completed the PIP form together.

“I was so grateful to Virginia. I’m not very good with processing documents and there were 40 pages to fill in, it took me a week just to get the information together for our phone call.”

The renewal was successful and Anne was awarded over £5,000 a year until 2030. “I’m immensely grateful and hugely relived,” she says. “It’s such a relief to know that there’s some money coming in.”

Anne’s husband is elderly and disabled, she says that the award will make a huge difference as it means she will be able to pay for extra care and help at home.

If Anne had not been helped by Citizens Advice, in a few months she would’ve reached state pension age and been unable to reapply for PIP, and other options may well have been more difficult to obtain.

“This will make such a difference. Truthfully, I’m so thankful and so grateful.”

*not her real name

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

Case Study: ‘Alice’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Help with PIP

Alice* wasn’t paying her bills. Forced to leave her job after developing a serious illness, she found that sick pay wasn’t enough to survive on. Alice relied on a credit card to pay the mortgage and utilities but upon reaching her credit limit, unpaid bills began stacking up.

Alice had been extremely anxious for months by the time she called Citizens Advice. Her financial situation felt impossible and without a partner to share the financial burden, Alice told us that she was too stressed to deal with her illness properly.

Our adviser, Bethany, carefully assessed Alice’s welfare and offered reassurance together with practical advice. “Bethany’s empathy, compassion, support, understanding and attention to detail was exemplary,” says Alice.

Categorised as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ during the coronavirus pandemic, Bethany helped Alice overcome her problems accessing PIP. Bethany then helped Alice make progress with another application to help her financially during her illness.

“Bethany provided a detailed, professional and stress-relieving response,” said Alice, “I would have no hesitancy in recommending Citizens Advice to anybody.”

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Chris’

Copy written for Citizens Advice

“I felt like a prisoner in my own home, it didn’t feel safe leaving the house,” says Chris.*

Chris was subjected to childhood abuse so violent that it left him in a wheelchair. He was living alone in social housing when Chris discovered that convicted paedophiles had been housed nearby — and they appeared to know about him.

One morning Chris opened his front door to find it spattered with red paint. One of the local men had recently been released from prison after threatening Chris with a knife on the same doorstep, it felt like an ominous sign.

Chris was already in long-term treatment for complex childhood trauma, including PTSD. He now felt besieged and began to relive his past, the night terrors and hallucinations returned. As his mental health declined, the anxiety became overwhelming.

Chris decided to call Citizens Advice for help and he spoke to our adviser, Elliott. “When I first got in contact I was in a bad place with my mental health, says Chris, “to the point where I had suicidal thoughts.”

Together, Chris and Elliott completed a housing application on medical grounds. Elliott then worked with our partners at the local authority to facilitate a rapid move, providing all the evidence required along the way.

Chris was soon allocated a ground floor flat with wheelchair access to the shower, he would be living safely there in just a few short weeks. “If it wasn’t for Elliott’s help and support and determination to get me back on the rails I would probably may have been dead or self-harmed,” says Chris.

Elliott continues to provide support. “Chris’ wellbeing has improved,” says Elliott, “he’s much happier and can see light at end of tunnel.”

*not his real name

Case Study: ‘Stanley’

Copy written for Macmillan Annual Report

“I can’t speak, someone is always listening.” An older man talks quietly down the phone to our specialist adviser. He sounds fearful, his voice cracking with emotion. He says he’s under great stress and that everything he says is overheard.

Our adviser, Diane, listens very carefully. He says that his name is Stanley*, he’s married but his wife is working away and doesn’t seem to be involved in his care. Stanley describes living in a house owned by his niece but says she’s so aggressive toward him that he stays in his room all day.

Stanley Tells Diane that he has cancer. He’s very sick but nobody will shop for him so sometimes he gets a taxi to the supermarket and relies upon the driver to carry his shopping. Stanley has been told to follow a special diet but Diane discovers that he ate only yogurt for breakfast and soup for lunch, both in his room.

Stanley sounds frightened and anxious, he cries sometimes. He says that his room is a prison, with visits to the kitchen and bathroom limited to when his niece isn’t around. He doesn’t have access to the Internet and his niece controls the post.

“They’re trying to get rid of me because I’m ill,” he says, and often repeats, “I’m not able to speak because of where I am.”

Diane reassures Stanley and checks his immediate safety then contacts our partners at the local authority to detail her concerns over Stanley’s basic welfare and safeguarding. The second lockdown complicates logistics, but Diane is able to arrange for a face-to-face meeting between Stanley the care team of a local hospice the next day.

When Stanley meets up with the hospice caseworker she notices how unwell he looks. Stanley tells her about how he got cancer and was made redundant. He describes his current isolation and helplessness in his niece’s house and how he feels unsafe. “There’s pressure and harassment,” he says.

Stanley goes back to the house, but the very next day is taken back into hospital due to his advancing illness. Diane continues to liaise with our partners and Stanley is quickly assigned a social worker by the local authority and a permanent caseworker by the hospice.

Stanley is discharged by the hospital and once again returns home, but the next day he calls our team. He is extremely stressed by his home situation and the arguments with his family over his health condition. His niece even sends abusive messages to his phone even whilst he sits in his room. Nobody will shop for him and Stanley’s struggle to get food is made worse because of the lockdown.

In the following weeks almost every member of the Macmillan team at Citizens Advice works on Stanley’s case at some point, each bringing their own specialities to his case. The team speaks to social workers, police and the borough council, who try to find him safe accommodation.

Stanley, meanwhile, remains in the protective custody of a hospital ward. The Macmillan team work hard to make sure he is never sent back to his old home again, using their office address for his correspondence so that his post isn’t intercepted.

Whilst the local authority seeks a suitable home for Stanley upon his discharge, the Macmillan team help obtain some independence for Stanley by helping him complete a successful application for PIP. They also arrange for his belongings to be recovered and secured and for a van and some people to move his possessions into a new, safe home.

*not his real name

Case Study: ‘Richard’

Copy for Citizens Advice / Macmillan

“I felt low and depressed. My illness is scary, self-isolating makes me lonely.” Richard* is a chatty pensioner, struggling with both cancer and his mental health. Deemed ‘vulnerable’ during the pandemic, Richard relied on charity food parcels until they ended after a year.

Referred to Citizens Advice through the Hardship Line, Richard spoke with our adviser, Caitlin. He explained how deeply his brother’s recent death had affected him. “I just loved my brother, I have no one now,” he told her.

Caitlin listened to an isolated and unwell man spiralling into depression. Concerned for his welfare, she made an appointment for Richard to speak to a colleague on the Macmillan team. Caitlin then explained that a food parcel could be delivered the next day, but Richard suddenly became confused and ended the call.

Caitlin flagged Richard as a safeguarding concern after he wouldn’t respond to her phone calls, texts or emails all that afternoon. It was decided that if he didn’t answer his door to the food bank delivery the following morning then he should be traced through Missing Persons.

When Richard didn’t answer the door, Caitlin called the police. Richard says he doesn’t remember what happened, he simply woke up on a drip in a hospital bed. Doctors said he hadn’t been eating properly for some time, it appeared he’d collapsed soon after his call with Caitlin.

Richard is still struggling with his health and mental wellbeing. “It’s scary and I don’t like it” he says. About to leave hospital and enter respite care for several weeks, Richard says that he’s still very appreciative of the care taken by Caitlin.

“Once I’d spoken to someone on the phone I felt better. I thought, ‘at least one person knows about me,’” says Richard. “Since then other people have called me, things have begun to happen and life is a bit better.”

*not his real name

Case study: ‘Clive and Anne’

Copy written for Macmillan Spotlight

Clive* worked as a bus driver but he’d been finding it increasingly uncomfortable to sit all day. His doctor suspected kidney stones but the pandemic had delayed an appointment with a specialist.

By the time he saw a consultant, Clive was diagnosed with kidney cancer which had already spread to his lungs and the prognosis was terminal. Soon Clive was so unwell that he could barely leave the flat.

Clive’s wife Anne* ran a catering business which had shuttered during lockdown. With their daughter too young to bring in a wage, the family now struggled to pay bills and began to fall behind in the rent.

Anne phoned Citizens Advice for help. She spoke to our specialist Macmillan adviser, Elizabeth, and for the first time was able to speak about the enormous stress she was carrying.

Elizabeth worked hard to reduce the financial pressure on Anne and Clive. She successfully helped them apply for both Universal Credit and Housing Benefit, which also qualified Clive for free NHS prescriptions.

Attendance Allowance for Anne was initially refused so Elizabeth obtained medical evidence from Clive’s hospital for a successful appeal. Elizabeth also helped get their Council Tax lowered and even won a small Mac Grant to help with Clive’s travel costs for chemotherapy.

Clive died a few short months after his diagnosis, the impact on the family was immeasurable. Elizabeth and the Macmillan team at Citizens Advice worked hard to make life as stress-free as possible for the family during that time.

*Not their real names

Case Study: ‘Neil’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Scam Awareness Week

Neil had recently paid off his tax arears when an email arrived from HMRC claiming that he still owed £800.

Although he was worried about the outstanding debt, Neil was also a little suspicious. Before he clicked the link in the email, Neil called the HMRC helpline but couldn’t find anyone to speak to in person. He then decided to try calling Citizens Advice in West Sussex and spoke to our adviser, Julia.

Julia was able to confirm that HMRC would never email or phone a client, that they always sent letters via Royal Mail. The supposed HMRC email also began with ‘Dear Customer’ and not Neil’s name, which, Julia pointed out, was a common marker of a scam email.

Scammer send millions of emails a day, most of which end up in spam filters or deleted by the recipient. But sometimes fraudsters get lucky and their fake email arrives when the recipient might be expecting to hear from whichever company the email is pretending to be from.

Neil was very cautious with his scam email, even though it tried to panic him into clicking the link. Julia was able to advise Neil that the website may look exactly like the HMRC website but would attempt to take his personal and possibly bank details too.

“The person on the phone was really helpful, they helped me understand what was going on”, says Neil.

*Not his real name

Case Study: ‘Kristof and Ana’

Copy written for Macmillan Annual Report

Ana and her brother Kristof* shared a single bed inside a small room. The multi-occupancy house they lived in was loud and chaotic. They felt unsafe, so anxious that they locked themselves inside their room all day and had their post delivered to a local church to prevent it from getting stolen.

Not long after Ana moved here, Kristof was diagnosed with an advanced cancer. Resolute that he must keep supporting them both, he continued to work through the pain. The stress of impoverished living conditions together with a lack of proper nutrition advanced Kristof’s condition. Eventually, he was unable to continue and was signed-off work for good.

Kristof now relied entirely on Ana to be his full-time carer. Without a tenancy agreement however, he was unable to get housing benefit and only had his meagre sick pay to support them both. They inevitably fell behind on the rent and Kristof felt helpless as the financial pressure increased by the day.

Our partners at a local hospital referred Kristof and Ana to the Macmillan team at Citizens Advice. They both spoke to our specialist adviser Elizabeth, who met an extremely anxious brother and sister who were critically isolated. Elizabeth identified the procedural problems and set to work with Ana.

Meanwhile our partners at the local authority called in the help of the police to carry out an inspection of Ana and Kristof’s shared house. The sibling’s accommodation was declared unfit and the landlord gave them two weeks’ notice to quit. The clock was now ticking to prevent the homelessness of a terminally ill man and his vulnerable sister.

Elizabeth worked with our partners at the local Housing Needs Team to urgently find the siblings suitable accommodation. She also worked with Ana to complete an EU Settlement Application, knowing that Settled Status would allow Ana to access some allowances to help them both. The application was successful and Elizabeth was then able to help Ana to apply for Carers Allowance recognise the full-time care she gave her brother.

The pair were soon allocated a small, temporary flat by the local authority. It was clean and bright with their own kitchen, bathroom and separate bedrooms. Ana and her brother lived there very happily together until Kristof’s death a few months later. The Macmillan Team at Citizens Advice in West Sussex were proud that the last weeks of Kristof’s life were spent in dignity and instead of a tiny, squalid room which he and Ana were too afraid to leave.

“Elizabeth made a big difference, it was so good for my brothers’ wellbeing,” says Ana. “She gave such a personal service. Very responsible and very attentive to the detail.”

Ana still lives in the flat whilst on the waiting list for social housing, and our Macmillan adviser Elizabeth continues to work with her. *not their real names

Case Study: ‘Karen’

Copy written for Citizens Advice

Karen* was out of both money and food when she called Citizens Advice.

She had been refused Personal Independence Payments after a telephone interview, so after 20 years on Disability Living Allowance Karen moved onto Universal Credit and into a room in a shared house.

Karen didn’t know that she was now expected to pay Council Tax and so built up sizable arrears. Repaying this debt left her with so little money that she fell behind in the rent too and repaying this only added to the deductions.

“I suffer from stress and depression so when I lost my DLA it was a disaster,” said Karen, “everything I relied upon went with it.”

She felt the assessors couldn’t see the pain and problems she experienced every day but Coronavirus meant there were no face-to-face interviews.

Our adviser, Rachael, arranged for an immediate food bank voucher. She then advised Karen about appealing her PIP decision and reducing the rate of Council Tax and repayments so that she didn’t find herself without food again.

“They helped so much, they really did,” says Karen. Rachel is currently guiding Karen through the appeals process and providing emotional support.

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Becky’

Copy written for Citizens Advice

“Before I talked to Elliott I didn’t even have a place to stay that night,” says Becky.*

Thrown-out by her parents when she turned eighteen, several months of sofa-surfing had left Becky depressed and overwhelmed. As her life spiralled, hope evaporated.

The day she called Citizens Advice, Becky was back on the street and alone. Secretly staying with her boyfriend in his staff accommodation, she had just been discovered and evicted — it was the end of the road.

“I spoke to someone with no control over her life and nowhere left to turn,” said our Housing Caseworker, Elliott. First he tackled the immediate problem of homelessness and worked hard with our partners at the local authority to find Becky temporary accommodation for the night.

Elliott then supported Becky emotionally as he advised and helped her into more long-term accommodation. Today Becky is living in a shared house and is well on the road to a settled existence, thanks in no small part to the ongoing work of our expert advisers like Elliott.

Becky told us, “Citizens Advice has definitely put me in a happier place, I’m just waiting to hear what happens next.”

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Marwa’

Copy written for Citizens Advice

“All my support was gone, I had no money for food. My mental health was really bad,” says Marwa*.

Two years into her university course and Marwa had become an asylum seeker. Civil unrest in her home country meant that her student funding was terminated and returning home became too dangerous.

Exchanging her Student Visa for Asylum Seeker status meant Marwa was forced to give up her part-time job, but months later she still hadn’t received any financial support.

Relying on the goodwill of a student friend for accommodation, Marwa had been living on leftovers from her host’s catering job. When Coronavirus restrictions began, it left her with no food.

Marwa called Citizens Advice for help. Our adviser Rachael spoke to her and found an extremely anxious woman who felt like she was out of options.

Rachel arranged for an immediate food bank voucher. She then made sure that Marwa was getting help for her mental health and referred her to specialist asylum agencies.

Marwa is still waiting to receive an Asylum Seeker allowance. In the meantime Rachel is supporting her and helping her obtain a small grant to keep her going.

“Every time I call Citizens Advice I get help — they’re amazing,” says Marwa.

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Gemma’

Copy written for Citizens Advice

Gemma* picked up a chair and threw it across the office toward her adviser. “Nobody’s listening to me!” she screamed and stormed out of the room.

The chair landed well-clear of Kate, her adviser at Citizens Advice, who quietly logged the incident and continued working on the case. Later Gemma would tearfully say, “Kate is amazing and brilliant and she doesn’t even know that she saved my life.”

Gemma had longstanding mental health problems. A young woman with a history of self-harm, she was being treated for multiple disorders when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening physical illness. Unable to work, Gemma had built-up thousands of pounds in rent arears and unpaid utility bills.

Gemma describes feeling crushed by the financial pressure, “It was horrendous, I was getting texts from the bailiffs six times a day and debt people never stopped ringing.” Complications with her benefit applications meant there was very little money coming in and Gemma was in danger of eviction.

The illness could leave Gemma exhausted and bedbound for days at a time. She lived alone and her mental health was declining as her debts climbed — the pressure and frustration were almost unbearable. Kate had indeed been listening to Gemma, very carefully, and in the following weeks she systematically set about helping her.

First Kate worked with our partners Horsham District Council to secure Gemma’s flat and even made a successful application to a charity to clear her entire rent arrears. Kate liaised with gas, water and electricity companies over her debts, negotiated payment plans and got Gemma on lower tariffs due to her illness.

Kate also worked successfully to get Gemma’s benefit entitlements re-established, obtaining Housing Benefit and an income. She negotiated with bailiffs to reduce stress levels, this was extremely important to Gemma who would later say, “Kate did everything in her power to stop me getting harassed.” Kate helped Gemma plan a budget to reduce her debts. She was even placed in a protected group exempt from council tax.

Gemma is now debt-free and receiving experimental hospital treatment. Her home is secure and she’s able to focus on her health at last. “I’m so grateful that Kate was always there for me, it wasn’t just me dealing with it all.” Says Gemma. “I’m so much happier now, everything is a lot better.”

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Sarah’

Copy written for Citizens Advice

Unable to read or write, Sarah* missed most of the letters she was sent.

Living in a caravan with her two children, Sarah had no idea that her Housing Benefit had been terminated a year earlier or that her other benefits had been reduced.

Already struggling badly for money, Sarah was now thousands of pounds in debt over unpaid ground rent and Council Tax. Confused and anxious, Sarah called Citizens Advice for help.

Our trained adviser, Tracey, first arranged for food parcels. Sarah was then helped to complete a new Universal Credit application. Tracey also arranged for an electricity top up and a gas cylinder for heating and cooking.

“I’m so thankful for all the help I got, says Sarah. “I’m able to keep on top of everything now.”

After Sarah’s teenage son was refused Personal Independence Payments, our adviser helped her fill out forms for an appeal, which was eventually won. Tracey then assisted the occupational therapist responsible for care of sick child in an application for proper housing.

*not her real name

Case Study: ‘Brian’

Copy written for Citizens Advice — Covid-19 in vulnerable groups

Overdue bills mounted, but without work there wasn’t even money for food.

One week into his new job and Brian* found himself laid off under the Coronavirus lockdown, he then received an NHS letter telling him to self-isolate.

Because Brian hadn’t completed his benefit claim properly he began missing rent payments. Isolation and the threat of eviction added to the strain on his mental health.

When some benefits arrived, large deductions were made to repay outstanding rent, leaving Brian going hungry for days at a time. Brian was desperate when he finally called Citizens Advice.

Our trained adviser, Kate, immediately recognised the seriousness of the situation. With her efforts food bank deliveries were quickly arranged, his housing association contacted and his tenancy assured.

Kate worked with multiple partners across the local authority, together with local charities who all helped to improve the situation.

With regular contact by phone, text, email and letter our adviser helped Brian fill out forms and put his benefits claim back on track.

Brian successfully applied for Personal Independence Allowance and was even awarded a small grant to live on until his new payments began.

“I can’t believe I’ll actually be able to buy some food,” says Brian, “the relief is just amazing.”

*not his real name

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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.

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Jules Powis

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.