Feature by Emma Cooney
A Thanet charity is desperately calling for volunteers to help people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
Citizens Advice Thanet supports people with everything from debt and housing to family and legal problems and says it is ‘heart-breaking’ to turn people away.
The pandemic led to a fall in volunteer numbers and the charity now wants to double the number to pre-lockdown levels to cope with demand.
Chief Officer, Angela Drew-Robinson, said: “Due to already stretched resources we are having to direct people to other services, which is heart-breaking at a time when we know people need our help more than ever before. We desperately want to get back to being available to anyone in need when they need us.”
The Government recently announced all households with a domestic electricity connection will get £400 credited to their energy account from October – and people on a low income, in receipt of disability benefits, or in receipt of the Winter Fuel Payment will receive extra financial help.
But nationally, Citizens Advice expects to have supported 57% more people than last year and is bracing itself for more calls when energy bills rise in October.
More volunteers would mean the Thanet charity could help more people and also offer a drop-in service. Trainee advisers are needed to answer phone calls, emails and meet people face to face. People with social media skills are also in demand. IT skills are essential and full training is given.
Mrs Drew-Robinson, who started as a volunteer at Citizens Advice Thanet in 2002, said volunteering has many benefits; “You learn so much. You get professional development, increased employability and knowledge. It could be a young person looking for new skills, or someone wanting a career change. Lots of volunteers bring life skills. And as a volunteer you help people get through their issues and move forward, which is hugely satisfying.”
The charity is also rebuilding its trustee team, responsible for overseeing strategy, governance and finance. Accountancy and fundraising skills are particularly in demand.
If you are interested in volunteering for Citizens Advice Thanet, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteer David Proderick
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” says Citizens Advice Thanet volunteer David Proderick, who calls the charity “a family.”
The retired diesel support engineer started volunteering ten years ago when he stopped working and says what he missed most was the people.
There were a lot of volunteer driving jobs around, but he had driven thousands of miles for work and wanted to do something different. Then he remembered his mum used Citizens Advice when he was younger.
“I was 7 or 8. It must have been school holidays because my mum dragged me and my sister along with her. She was raising two children on her own. My dad was away and we needed financial help.”
The Ramsgate resident went along to offer his services and said he could “make tea, book people in and sweep up.”
He was soon learning to be an adviser and says the training at Citizens Advice is “second to none,” adding volunteers are part of the family.
“My wife suffered quite a bit with illness and died five years ago. During all that time the Citizens Advice family were there for me. There’s always someone there to support you.”
Rewards, he said, were people’s appreciation for your advice, and seeing people leaving appointments feeling lighter.
“I call it hatch and match and dispatch because we help people with everything from births to deaths, benefits claims, neighbour disputes, marriage breakups, consumer issues – and debt is big at the moment. I’m the first person people see when they walk through the door. And if I don’t know the answer, I know where to find it.
“Sometimes people just want someone to listen.
“We get people saying ‘they can’t pay you enough for what you’ve done.’ They don’t realise we are volunteers!
“The hardest thing to do is walk through the door. Sometimes someone comes in crying and we find them an extra £100 a week, and they cry again. People don’t know what they are entitled to – especially the older people I see.”
The 73-year-old from Ramsgate also volunteers at Age UK Thanet where blue badge claims and benefits calculations are in demand, and he is an escort on a minibus for a church lunch club where he also helps out. “It’s a good crack. A good time,” he said.
During lockdown, the Citizens Advice phone lines were diverted to his home and a computer set up. First, he answered local calls, once they were finished, he went on the computer to help answer national enquiries.
“I have to be doing something,” he said. “I was a man living on his own during lockdown. Citizens Advice kept me sane.”
How Citizens Advice can help with energy costs and debt
- Check for any means of increasing income and making savings on expenditure
- Look at what benefits you are entitled to
- Look at what your energy companies offer
- Look at emergency vouchers
- Links to debt charities
- Citizens Advice Thanet is working with Citizens Advice North & West Kent to deliver debt advice. To make an appointment email: email@example.com Phone: 03300 533 667 When contacting the charity please provide your name and contact details for a call back. Find Citizens Advice Thanet online at https://thanetcitizensadvice.org/
10 Energy and money saving tips
Volunteer trustee at Citizens Advice Thanet, Danni Barnes, works for fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA).
She says it is important to speak with your energy supplier to check what help is available if people are struggling to pay and to use the energy you need to keep warm, safe and healthy.
She adds while energy saving measures won’t make up for the huge increase in the energy price cap, NEA offers the below money-saving tips.
- Remember to turn your appliances off standby mode. Unplug or switch off devices at the wall. Don’t leave your mobile phone on charge all night – most only need a couple of hours.
- Cooking in a microwave is cheaper than an oven as it uses less power and takes less time to cook.
- Avoid putting warm food in your freezer as it makes it work harder – allow food to cool down first.
- Switch off lights when you leave a room. Leaving one standard 60W light bulb on for 12 hours each day could cost you £73 per year – for just one bulb. Switch to a low energy LED bulb. These can use up to 90% less electricity.
- Only boil the water you need in your kettle.
- Electric showers are one of the biggest energy guzzlers, set a timer for three minutes to keep costs down.
- Wash clothes at 30°C instead of 40°C.
- Use a bowl to wash up rather than running the tap.
- Dry clothes on a clothesline outside or on an airer, instead of using a dryer. If you need to use a dryer the latest heat pump tumble dryers use less electricity.
- Understanding your heating controls can help. If you have electric storage heaters take a look at National Energy Actions Getting the most from Economy 7 fact sheet.
NEA aims to ensure that everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is warm and safe at home. Visit www.nea.org.uk/energyhelp page for more information and look at its Energy Consumption in the Home leaflet.
More detail on Government energy support can be found at Help for Households https://helpforhouseholds.campaign.gov.uk/