The Committee considered a presentation from Citizens Advice Surrey Heath (CASH) in respect of continued work throughout the pandemic and its future challenges.
CASH were committed to continuing to provide an independent, impartial and free service to the residents of Surrey Heath. In addition to this CASH provided governmental organisations, the Council and the third sector, with vital information about its cases, whom accessed their service and about the demographics of the area. Nationally this also allowed the Citizens Advice Bureau to work as a pressure-group lobbying Government.
CASH’s core financial funding came from the Council’s Revenue Grant Scheme. However the Council highly benefitted from the relationship and certified modelling showed that the public value of CASH’s volunteers amounted to £290,000. Whilst CASH had always continued to help Surrey Heath residents with a wide range of issues, statistics had shown that CASH’s clients had increasing amounts of issues per person. Whilst in the 2018-19 financial year there was a 3 issues per person average, in the 2019-20 financial year the average amount of issues per CASH client had risen to 4.
After the first peak of the pandemic and a lull in service-uptake in May, CASH resumed select face-to-face appointments for those clients who were unable to access their services via the telephone or internet. The top issues which CASH clients sought advice on were benefits and tax credits, universal credit, debt and housing problems. This was in turn backed up from data from CASH’s website where webpages on Furlough, and ‘If you can’t pay your bills because of Coronavirus’, were amongst the most visited pages. Moreover CASH’s website saw a 24% rise in overall traffic.
The organisation faced the challenge of being unable to anticipate the demands on their service post pandemic. The pandemic had caused a noticeable reduction in CASH’s volunteer advisers and 75% of those whom stayed on chose to volunteer from their homes. Going forward CASH’s challenges looked to be around retention of volunteers and around human resourcing; and the organisation was trying hard to manage a constructed approach to recruitment including training and mentoring.
Arising from Members’ questions and comments the following points were noted:
· The Council had the ability to raise awareness in respect of CASH’s job vacancies and provide general support to CASH in respect of recruitment issues.
· There were significant numbers of residents who were accessing CASH services for the first time looking to access the benefit system and had fallen on significant hardship for the first time.
· The Council already had significant social media campaigns promoting local services which were available to those in hardship. However there was potential for the Council to provide further social media support to CASH.
· There was potential in the future for the Council and CASH to work in order to develop the organisation’s outreach programme post-pandemic.
· CASH were currently able to manage their caseload, as the organisation wasn’t currently picking up large amounts of in-person casework. In addition further capacity for CASH was provided by the 24 hour national Citizens Advice Bureau helpline and CASH worked in close collaboration with Citizens Advice Woking.
The Chairman thanked Kate on behalf of the Committee and reiterated that CASH would have the backing of the Committee if the organisation required any additional support from the Council.