My work week: “I advise a client on universal credit who cannot pay his bills or provide for his children” | Poverty



I am a debt advisor for Citizen’s Advice. I listen to clients every day who find themselves in seemingly impossible situations. People are struggling to maintain even the most basic standards of living, especially those on leave who have seen their incomes drop or who have been made redundant because companies do not survive Covid-19.

Today I am speaking with a client who has not had a hot drink in days because he was short of essentials. They ask what to do if an enforcement agent surrenders on their housing tax debt (which they shouldn’t be doing right now due to the outbreak). I issue them a food bank voucher and liaise with a local project to get supplies as they are vulnerable. A debt relief order is approved for another client, with debts over £ 17,000 canceled.


I’m talking to someone who is having trouble paying their rent. Since their son went to university, they have to pay the tourist tax. I fill out a Discretionary Housing Payment application for them to see if the local authority will help pay the rent arrears and cover the deficit while they recover from an operation.

We are unlikely to hear the outcome for another 12-14 weeks as the local authority is inundated with requests for help. A new client calls me and tells me he has more money to go out each month than to come back. He has a very basic expense level, which only roughly covers his essential bills. I am filling out an application with an energy trust fund which customers in difficulty can apply for financial assistance. I am discussing insolvency for over £ 25,000 of debt they have. Even that will not help their situation in the long run, as they still cannot pay all the household bills and provide for their young children only through universal credit.


I review the files of several clients and discuss the debts of pawn shops with one. Having lost his job due to the coronavirus, the client pledged jewelry for a loan as they needed money for food and basic necessities while awaiting payment of the universal credit. The customer is heartbroken because he cannot raise the funds to redeem the pledged goods. I advise them on renewing the commitment to pay and writing a budget to see if other arrangements can be made.


I am assisting a client with fuel debts totaling almost £ 5,000. The client fell behind with the current monthly invoices because he was only receiving benefits. The energy company now has a mandate to install a prepayment meter on the property. I tell the company that the client has mental health issues. The customer will eventually disconnect from his power if he cannot get out to recharge the meter. Given my client’s position, the company agrees to delay installation of the meter, while we submit a trust fund request to see if it will help settle the debt. Crossed fingers.


I help a client make sure they meet the criteria for bankruptcy. Raising the fees by over £ 600 will be a real challenge as they only relate to benefit income. The client is very distressed and upset to have to go through this process, but is hoping to make a fresh start if he can find the costs. I give all the advice and publish the bankruptcy fact sheet. They will need to let their creditors know that they intend to file for insolvency, but that it will take some time because they have to increase the fees.

These are troubling times for my community and we are bracing for the fallout on families who are behind with rent payments. We’ll also have to see how the holiday schedule being phased out affects people.

The idea that comforts me is that there is almost always something we can do at Citizen’s Advice. I’m lucky I have a job that I love, and being there to help families in my own community is the best feeling in the world.

Some details have been changed

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