Life can be tough for everyone at times and the need for free, confidential, independent advice in the year ahead will be more important than ever. 2019 is set to be a year of uncertainty, complexity and change.
Managing money, family and health worries and understanding consumer and legal rights are just some of the issues that many people will face on a daily basis over the next 12 months. And it’s likely that these will be made even more complicated by the challenging political and economic times we’re experiencing.
As well as a year of uncertainty, 2019 is also going to be a year of celebration for Citizens Advice as it marks the 80th anniversary of our service.
Since the very beginning, Citizens Advice has been at the forefront of providing free, confidential, independent advice. Nationally we started giving advice in 200 locations on 4 September 1939, the day after World War Two started. But these services didn’t wait for people to find them – instead they ventured out into some of the areas worst affected by the Blitz to find those in need. They gave advice to whoever needed it on a range of issues including evacuation, what to do if they’d lost their home and how to get a new ration book. Here in Kingston we started our charity in 1940.
And while thankfully the nation isn’t experiencing the same immediate physical danger as it was in wartime Britain, we’re still reaching those in need of help 80 years on. We’re still offering face to face advice for anyone who needs it but today we’re increasingly reaching people in new ways too, whether that’s through our website, through chat or over the phone.
Facing complicated or intimidating problems isn’t new. Benefits, debt and housing are areas we have worked on throughout our 80-year history and it’s likely they will always be central to what we do. We’ve helped people like Sarah, who following the breakdown of her marriage was worried that she and her children would become homeless as she could no longer afford the bills. But with a bit of help from us she was able to get a handle on her finances, which she says has improved her sleep and meant she’s now a calmer person and a better parent.
But we’re increasingly working on very different kinds of problems too. We help people understand their consumer rights and pension choices, deal with energy suppliers and act as a witness in court. We’ve helped people like Gail, who after speaking to us wrote to her energy company for wrongly charging for oversupplying her with more gas than she’d paid for in advance. And we’ve helped people like Jenny, who after the company she worked for was taken over, suffered years of verbal abuse and illegal practices from her new employer. After leaving her job with our help she took her case to an employment tribunal, where she was awarded damages to be paid by her ex-employer of over £100,000.
Last year, like every year, we helped millions of people find a way forward. We had 25 million visits to our digital advice. In total, our 1,500 web pages of advice were viewed 34 million times. Locally here in Kingston we helped about 20,000 people. Whether it’s Universal Credit, delayed flights, unmanageable debt or issues renting a home, 7 in 10 of the people who came to us last year said we helped solve their problem.
And we don’t stop there. Now more than ever we are working together across thousands of locations and using our unique insight into the issues people are facing today to show big organisations and the government how they can make things better for people. We challenge prejudices and assumptions in order to solve problems and make people’s lives easier. Our campaigns have contributed to real improvements in millions of people’s lives – from changes to Universal Credit and a price cap on rent-to-own products, to more rights for renters and a better deal for energy consumers.
So throughout 2019 we’re going to be celebrating the impact that staff and volunteers have had on the nation over the last 80 years, because that’s why we’re here. To give people the knowledge and the confidence they need to find their way forward – whoever they are, and whatever their problem.