Citizen Advice Exeter says it has had to deal with a 43.8% increase in the number of requests for support and advice over changes to social security benefits, whilst warning of an “urgent need to address failings in the benefits system”.
The charity says it has seen a 46.4% increase in enquiries about Employment and Support Allowance, a 42.2% increase is issues resulting from Housing Benefit changes, a 27.9% rise in enquiries about disability benefits, and a 25% rise in problems with tax credits.
The number of people contacting the charity about bankruptcy and debt relief orders has more than doubled by 108.5%, while the number of households troubled by Council Tax debt has soared by 112.1%.
The number of local households struggling with water debts has also increased by 40.7%.
Disputes over employment rights has been a worrying feature, with the charity dealing with 33.3% more employment enquiries, including a 116.6% rise in disputes over pay and entitlements.
The charity also dealt with 13.6% more enquiries over housing issues, which includes a 150% rise in the number of homeless clients.
However, the charity has welcomed a 3.7% decrease in the average debt amount owed by clients.
Chief Executive Steve Barriball told the local press: “There is a real worry here that we saw increases in enquiries about welfare benefits, employment and housing every month last year. We are again seeing increases again this year.
“This highlights the urgent need to address failings in the benefits system, provide more security for those in work, and provide additional assistance to those struggling to get on the property ladder; either as property owners or tenants.”
“It is good to see a drop in the average debt per client. However, as the sample size is small, based on just one month, it is difficult to draw any concrete conclusions or trends at this stage. We will continue to monitor the position over the coming months.
“It is good news that things continue to look up on the wider economic front. But for many individuals and families the combination of pressure on household budgets, the impact of welfare reform, and rising childcare costs are all features contributing to other increases in client enquiries.
“Not everyone is confident managing their money so it is really important people are able to access free, impartial help and support to get their finances on track.”