law bookThe experience of local Citizens Advice gives a unique, fresh insight into the problems faced every day by people living in the UK.

As well giving advice we also use what we see and hear to prevent problems in the first place. The stories clients share with Wiltshire Citizens Advice gives us a unique insight into the problems faced by people in Wiltshire.

With over two million clients seen in England and Wales each year by the Citizens Advice service it's the kind of evidence that's hard to ignore. It's all too apparent when policies and services cause people problems.

We see it as our responsibility to create a public debate around these issues and to speak up for clients. 

Citizens Advice, locally and nationally, collects evidence of clients' problems and uses this to campaign for changes in national and local policies and services. We have a key role in speaking up for clients, raising issues brought to us, contributing to public debate and informing legislation.

The policy / campaign work of the Citizens Advice service covers a huge range of issues including consumer, debt, housing, benefits, immigration, employment, legal matters and health. We work with policymakers, regulators, MPs, and service providers.


Helping to help more people than the people we see

Everyone is affected by rules and principles which shape the services and benefits we all rely on.  These may include regulations, codes of practice, legislation, guidelines and policies of service providers; they may be national, regional or local. All social policy work undertaken is rooted in the experiences of real people who are adversely affected by these policies; social policy is about campaigning to bring about changes to make the rules (and their implementation) fairer for all.

The Citizens Advice service has built a strong reputation for independent analysis and has worked with government, companies, regulators, trade associations and consumer groups to secure change for those who are adversely affected by unfair policies.

It is recognised that the best way to tackle any problem is to treat the cause, not just the symptoms. This is what social policy aims to do. We cannot see everyone who needs help individually and many people do not access our services, for various reasons. However, we can - and do - reach out and help people beyond our core service users through our social policy work, by bringing about changes that reduce unfairness.

Current campaigns and research

The housing crisis in Wiltshire

By autumn 2022 Housing had become our second largest enquiry area, accounting for around 1 in every 7 issues we helped people with - double what it was before the pandemic. 
Those living in the private rented sector, in particular, or trying to find a home there, are finding it a really difficult time. Problems with Access to and provision of accommodation (1,297 issues), and Private rented sector property (1,470 issues) accounted for almost half of all our housing enquiries in 2022/23. Private renters have the least security of tenure, are the least protected but face some of the highest housing costs. 
Such was the demand for advice about problems with housing, we committed to understanding more about the challenges people in our local community were facing. We later published our research as a report – Spotlight on our housing data.
The report shows it’s a really difficult time to be a private renter. Rents are going up, the quality of properties is going down, and more and more people are being evicted without cause.
Cost of living pressures are hitting renters hard
We found that private renters are the group most likely to be in a “negative budget” at the end of every month - meaning they don’t have enough money coming in each month to cover their essential costs. For those with a negative budget, debt can quickly build up over a short space of time putting them at risk of eviction and debt enforcement practices. 
Rents are continuing to rise 
Private renters are facing further increases to their housing costs, with rental price growth in 2022 at its highest rate in the UK since records began in 2016. Private renters already spend more of their income on housing costs than other groups.
Support isn’t keeping pace with housing costs, or inflation
The Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which helps people on low incomes meet the cost of renting in the private sector is becoming less effective because the level of support is out of step with the housing market. In April 2020, in response to the pandemic, the government restored LHA to cover the bottom 30% of rents. However, it was immediately refrozen and in the 2 years following government statistics show the bottom 30% of rents rose by around 5%, creating a shortfall between the bottom 30% of rents and LHA rates. With the announcement in the 2022 autumn statement that it’s frozen for a third year running, thousands more households face being unable to afford their rent. Struggling renters are at risk of eviction.  
(Poor) quality 
High rents don’t mean high quality homes
Renters may be paying more than ever for their homes, but the quality of those properties hasn’t improved. We helped a record number of people with disrepair issues in the private rented sector. In particular, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people accessing advice on damp in their homes. 
At a time when renters are struggling to keep their heads above water, with record rises in energy bills and rent, the average tenant is facing annual energy bills that are more expensive due to poor insulation. Cold homes are causing widespread issues with damp and mould, and put the health of renters at risk. 
Those who have complained about their housing conditions often tell us they've waited more than a year for their landlord to fix the issue. Others say they didn’t complain because they feared being evicted. This is not uncommon and is often cited by private renters as a reason for not enforcing their rights. 
More people are facing evictions through no fault of their own
Renters also have to contend with the fact that their landlord can evict them for no reason at all.  
Increasing numbers of people are coming to us because they’re facing eviction, are threatened with homelessness, or are actually homeless. In particular we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people coming to us for help with a section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice. This trend began at the start of the pandemic and has continued to build during the cost-of-living crisis. For some renters this can put them at a higher risk of homelessness.  
The government has announced plans to ban section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions but until the Renters’ Reform Bill is legislated, tenants are still at risk of being evicted. The constant threat of evictions is one of the main reasons tenants often struggle to feel safe and secure in their properties.
More private renters are seeking advice on homelessness
From April 2020 our data shows a significant shift from social tenants seeking advice on homelessness to more private tenants. The pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have exposed the extent to which private renters are at the mercy of a fluctuating market and the whims of individual landlords.
In response to the pandemic, the government recognised the need for additional protections for tenants in the private rented sector by temporarily banning evictions. But this support hasn’t been offered during the cost-of-living crisis. Our data shows that problems for tenants have only grown as they’re forced to pay more for damp and mouldy homes while still at risk from section 21 evictions.
Good quality, warm and affordable housing is crucial
Renters need to feel safe and secure, in a place they can call home for as long as they need. But private renters face the burden of ever-increasing rents, and have little control in the market. To help private renters, the government must bring forward existing reform plans as soon as possible and consider other interventions as renters’ costs rise.
We are calling on the government to:
  • Unfreeze the Local Housing Allowance and restore the link to local rents, returning it to the 30th percentile. 
  • Strengthen Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards in legislation, so all new private rented properties reach EPC C by 2025, and existing tenancies by 2028. 
  • Extend Awaab’s law to the private rented sector to place strict timelines on landlords to deal with serious issues such as damp and mould.
  • Bring forward the Renters’ Reform Bill to, amongst other things, abolish section 21 evictions, give tenants stronger powers to challenge poor practice and extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector. 
  • Ensure that Local Authorities have well-resourced teams to enforce quality standards set out in the Bill and that these teams are accessible to tenants.

Need advice? 
If you're worried about rising energy costs, struggling to pay your bills, or would like information about support schemes to help lower your energy costs please contact us.

Recent research and campaigns

Cost of Living Crisis

February 2022
Prices are rising at the fastest rate in 30 years; energy bills alone will rise by more than 50% in April. For the average household on a default tariff (11 million households) that would be an increase of around £60 per month. That doesn’t include an additional £94 which will be clawed back via energy bills from April 2022 to pay for the cost of dozens of energy companies failing.
We are all feeling the squeeze but the soaring costs of essentials will hurt low income families, whose budgets are already stretched, most. 
Families are still reeling from the £20 cut to Universal Credit last October. And, though benefits will increase by 3.1% in April, inflation is projected to be 6% by then. This means yet another real terms cut to incomes.
In response to this latest energy cap price rise, the government has announced a package of support to help households with rising energy bills. But it's a complicated and untargeted package of measures. While it provides some relief for all households come April, for people on low incomes who need it most, there are far easier ways for the government to deliver targeted support.
You can read more about the issues families are facing in our latest research report below:
Citizens Advice, drawing on their expertise as the energy consumer watchdog and leading welfare advice provider, recommend four steps to deal with the challenge over the coming year:
  1. Reduce the immediate financial pressure low income households will feel in April. The best way of doing this quickly is through a one-off payment via the benefits system. 

  2. Spread the cost of energy supplier failures over a longer period (2-3 years) rather than current plans (recovering the majority in 2022/3)

  3. Uprate benefits in line with current inflation, offset by lower increases in the following financial year (with the overall impact of the change being cost neutral).

  4. Recognise this crisis will stretch through to next winter - when the risks from cold weather are greatest - and start developing solutions now. By increasing and extending the Winter 2022 Warm Home Discount we can have the provision in place that will protect the lowest income households from the worst excesses of the coming price increases. 

Need advice? 

If you're worried about rising energy costs, struggling to pay your bills, or would like information about support schemes to help lower your energy costs please contact us.

Keep the Lifeline

January 2021

We urged the Government to keep the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. 

In the lead up to the Spring Budget, we urged the Government to keep this lifeline in place to support families who need it through the rest of the crisis and our recovery, as well as ensuring we have an adequate social security system for the future. 

We also urged the Government to make this much-needed £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits permanent, and extend it to legacy claimants so that this group, who are mainly disabled, sick and carers, don’t continue to be excluded. 

You can follow the #KeepTheLifeline campaign on Twitter. 

Read more updates... 

Employment issues in Wiltshire during Covid-19

August 2020

We are facing the worst jobs crisis for a generation. Citizens Advice research shows 1 in 6 (17%) are facing redundancy. A recent YouGov poll revealed more than a third of UK employers plan to make staff redundant over the next three months.  Hundreds of thousands more have already lost their jobs - people like Lottie*. 

Lottie* has asthma and faces potentially higher risks from coronavirus so she was furloughed by her employer at a local nursery, where she’s worked for the past year and a half. Lottie has now been made redundant, with one week’s notice. She did not receive any redundancy pay and has no savings. Lottie turned to us as she worried how she would manage to look after her family and pay the rent. 

We’re helping people like Lottie once every two minutes with a redundancy problem. In July 2020, we helped six times the number of people with a redundancy problem than we had the previous year.

The labour market is in a perilous state, kept afloat by the Job Retention Scheme, the single biggest peacetime intervention in the economy in history. But even that has not proved enough to hold all jobs in stasis. Employment fell by 730,000 in July, with the youngest and oldest workers hardest hit by redundancies thus far. Those aged 16 to 24 years in the labour market decreased by 100,000, while those aged 65 years and over decreased by a record 161,000 from April to June 2020.

The number of people claiming benefits who were not in work has risen to the highest levels for 20 years. And the total number of hours worked has fallen by almost 9%, the fastest decline on record. Every indicator seems to break new records in highlighting how profoundly the coronavirus pandemic has damaged the economy and people’s jobs. 

Alongside this sobering picture, we can add our own insights from the problems people are coming to us about. The retention scheme formally runs until the end of October, but employers, who since August have faced the requirement to make contributions and statutory timescales for redundancies, will feel the financial pressure to make decisions now.

Our new report, which you can download below, summarises the redundancy issues and other employment problems we’re supporting people with in this jobs crisis; and how this is affecting people’s finances and ability to pay their rent, council tax and other household bills now and in the future.

*Client name has been changed.

Seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

We have helped people with a huge range of issues since lockdown, but we know that as the furlough scheme winds down, lots of people may be feeling worried and need advice.

If you’re at risk of redundancy, it’s important to know you do have rights to help protect you from unfair dismissal and to ensure you’re paid what you’re owed.

Click here to see our seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

Fixing Universal Credit 

Why Universal Credit matters

By 2022, 7 million families in the UK will be on Universal Credit. Over half of those will be in work.

The aim – to simplify our benefits system – is right. But Universal Credit is already failing many people.

It is forcing people into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet.

At Citizens Advice across the country we’re already helping thousands of people who are claiming Universal Credit.

If the problems with Universal Credit aren’t fixed they will escalate. That’s why we’ve been campaigning for the Government to address the issues with Universal Credit before this happens.

If they don’t, 7 million households will face serious financial risk. 

Campaigning to fix problems with Universal Credit

Since Universal Credit was introduced we’ve used our clients’ evidence to help us persuade the Government to make changes that ensure UC works for the people who need it.

Locally and nationally Citizens Advice have been campaigning since July 2017 for the government to pause and fix Universal Credit.

This is because our evidence shows that Universal Credit can leave people unable to pay essential bills and can risk pushing them into debt and hardship whilst they wait for their first payment.

Campaign successes

In November’s Budget, the Government announced a number of changes, including a £1.5 billion package of support for UC. These changes should make a significant difference to the millions of people who will be claiming UC by the time it’s fully implemented. We will continue to keep a close eye on the roll-out of UC and make sure they do.

The changes include:

  • Removing the 7 waiting days
  • Introducing an additional non-repayable financial payment for those moving from Housing Benefit to UC to help people pay their rent.
  • Changes to Advance Payments so claimants can receive 100% of their payment as an advance, and pay it back over 12 months. All claimants should be told they can get an Advance Payment
  • Making the UC helpline free
  • A slowdown in the roll out of full service UC
  • Closure of new claims to the ‘live service’

The Government will be looking again at Universal Support to ensure those who need it are helped to get onto UC and to adapt to the changes involved, and wider changes to UC and the taper rate are under review.

We’ve called for all these changes in recent months and believe they will make a real difference to the people we help.

Read more about our campaign to fix Universal Credit

Past research

Housing: There's no place like home

Theres no place like homeWhat’s it like trying to make a home in Wiltshire and how does the national housing crisis present itself in our county?

Wiltshire Citizens Advice has been addressing this question over the past two years in a research study based on actual feelings and experiences. This briefing (available to download below) is not a detailed report on our research, largely because many of the issues identified remain unresolved and therefore our research must be ongoing.  Rather, it constitutes the key messages and recommendations from our findings to date.

This briefing is intended for those who would like greater understanding of people's broad and inclusive housing needs, together with how these work alongside the provision available in Wiltshire.

Our contributors; including clients coping with housing issues, interested members of the public, staff and professionals whose daily work involves advising, representing or helping them; offer both operational and strategic housing insights that should be useful to all working in housing across Wiltshire.

We recognise that our ‘client-eye-view of Wiltshire’s housing’ may be coloured by impending loss of a home or the threat of homelessness, but argue its relevance to any county-wide housing policy. We also interviewed people who had voluntarily walked into our offices from ‘street-level’ to talk to us about what they thought made a successful and sustainable home.

We have archived a more than 30,000 recorded words, in response to +80 different interview questions and a broad range of interviewees also included people working in legal representation, Local Authority, social housing allocation and clients struggling with the threat of eviction, or trying to gain a foothold in the rented sector (both social and private). All Wiltshire Citizens Advice staff have had an opportunity to contribute ideas from their first-hand experience. The rich data collected through our research study will be utilised in taking forward the recommendations contained within this briefing.

The conclusions and recommendations which follow, are a result of this effort. As a strategy to simplify matters, and help eliminate any confusion, the conclusions are divided into the strategic and operational.


Need housing advice?

Whether you are looking for a place to live, or already renting home, housing issues will always arise and therefore you need to know your rights and responsibilities.
You could also find yourself threatened with eviction if you can't cope with your mortgage payments.


Other past campaign successes

Over the years we have campaigned on a range of different issues in order to improve the policies and services that affect our clients. These are just a handful of the campaigns we are most proud of.


Making Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) #FitforWork

What was the problem?

Ill and disabled people were being let down by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – the benefit that is intended to support people while they are too ill for work.  Many people were facing charges for the medical evidence they needed to support their claim, enduring poor customer service and low quality decision making, and then being left without any financial support if they decided to challenge poor decisions made as a result of this flawed process.

What happened?

Now, if an ill or disabled person needs to apply for ESA, changes to the form they fill in and the guidance provided around medical evidence should help them get the supporting information they need – for free. The Department for Work and Pensions and a new assessment provider have committed to further training and support to improve the assessment experience and decision making, so claimants should have a better experience and more decisions should be right first time.

Payday loans campaign

What was the problem?

sams story

Payday loan companies were not treating their customers fairly. The payday loan industry was breaking its promise to clean up its behaviour. Citizens Advice called for payday lenders to be properly regulated and to stop irresponsible advertising.
In the last four years the Citizens Advice service saw a ten-fold increase in the number of debt clients with payday loans, while our evidence showed that payday loan companies were not treating their customers fairly - and were even breaking regulations and guidance regarding responsible lending.
Most of the problems we were hearing about related to payday lenders not checking that customers could afford the loan, and pressuring them to ‘roll over’ the loan when they struggled to pay it back on time, as well as the way in which lenders took payments from their customers’ accounts – leaving them with no money for essentials.
We were also concerned about the glossy advertising practices of payday lenders, which were often irresponsible and misleading, masking the reality of debt. Finally, we wanted to make sure people knew about the alternatives and where to go for help.

How we got involved

Wiltshire Citizens Advice took an active part in raising awareness about this campaign and collected clients’ stories of their experience of pay day lenders as evidence. We wrote to the Wiltshire MPs to ask them to attend the High Cost Credit Bill vote in Parliament last July. The Bill would: restrict the advertising of payday loans; restrict the use of the continuous payment authority by payday lenders; and require payday lenders to signpost customers in financial difficulty to sources of free and impartial debt advice. We also asked our supporters to get ‘mad about the ad’ and report irresponsible or misleading payday loan adverts to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
What happened?
From the 1 April 2014, the Financial Conduct Authority introduced tough new rules on payday lenders.
Cap on the cost of credit: The Government announced that there will be a cap on the amount of money a loan can cost you in 2015.

Advertising practices under the microscope: Complaints were made about several payday loan ads and a number have already been banned.

Read more about how our clients and the wider public have benefitted from our successful campaigns - campaign successes.

Research and campaigning with us

Interested in being a local campaigner or researcher with Wiltshire Citizens Advice? Find out how you can volunteer with our research and campaigning team.

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