Published: Friday, 6th January 2023
Mark Whitmore, Assistant Director: Health, Wellbeing and Public Protection explains some of the support available to residents.
Christmas and New Year is a time for celebration but for people struggling with everyday living costs it can feel like an extra demand on a budget that already doesn’t go far enough.
The stress this causes for many people is overwhelming and they tend to live life from day-to-day or even moment-to-moment and this has the effect of storing up bigger problems for later.
People often respond to money problems in one of two ways. They either avoid the problem altogether because they don’t know how to get out of it or panic and go for a short-term solution like giving up their home or going to a money-lender – both of which usually make things worse in the long term.
But it doesn’t have to be like that and the council’s main message is: talk to us before doing anything else – we can help.
We can check that you are getting all the financial benefits you are entitled to. If you’re in debt we have services that will help you get back on track. If you find yourself in crisis we may be able to arrange help with food and rent costs.
If you’re struggling with your mental health we can put you in touch with people who can help with that too.
We understand that it can be really difficult to think beyond today’s problems but if you can just take that first step of talking to us, it could be the most important conversation you have this year.
Money advice not money lenders
Because going to a money lender means fast access to cash without having to fill out forms, it can be a really tempting choice. But these people prey on desperation, charging huge amounts of interest and sometimes threatening or using violence to make you pay.
There ARE alternatives. If you get proper money advice they can help you maximise your income, making sure you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to and other help, such as discretionary support payments. They may be able to help you consolidate some of your debt or help you make payment agreements that you can manage.
The council pays for a money advice service that’s specially to help with this and free to use – visit moneyadvicehub.org.uk or call 01553 970004.
Hang on to your home?
Rent is usually a household’s biggest cost and recently we have had a lot of phone calls from people who have given up their tenancies because they think they can’t afford it. They intend to go on the housing register to get an affordable home.
What many people don’t realise is that in many cases Government rules see this as making yourself ‘intentionally homeless’, which means that the council can’t do much to help.
Even if we can help, it could be a long wait as very few affordable homes are available and there are around 1,400 people on the housing register in this borough alone. Over the past three months only 19 homes with 3 or more bedrooms have become available – that’s about 6 each month.
For most people the best plan is to work out a way of staying in your current home. We can help with this.
Even if staying where you are isn’t right for you, the most important thing you can do is talk to us before making any big decisions as this is when we can give you the most help.
We’re here for you
If you feel ready to talk to us, you can call 01553 616200. Ask for housing options to talk about your housing situation or ask for Lily for anything else.
If you have internet access, have a look at our website pages on help with the cost of living at west-norfolk.gov.uk/costofliving. The pages are broken down into different problems you might be facing and tell you where to get help for each one.
Mr A’s story
This is based on a real case, anonymised to protect the individuals concerned.
Mr A was given notice to leave his privately rented home as he was not making any payments towards his rent.
He rang us for housing advice and, with his permission, we investigated the reasons for his arrears and worked with Mr A and his landlord to try to prevent him from being evicted and becoming homeless.
Our investigations showed that Mr A had been struggling to manage his finances for some time and also that some of his expenditure could be reduced as he had been buying non-essential items such as scratch cards and gifts. All of this had left him unable to pay his rent.
Meanwhile we approached Mr A’s landlord to see if there was a way for him to stay in his home. When they understood that the council was giving Mr A support, they agreed to withdraw the notice if a payment plan for the rent could be agreed, including a regular amount towards the arrears.
We were able to work with Mr A to help him reduce non-essential spending so he could afford his rent and put in place an affordable plan for his rent and arrears. We also referred him to our specialist money advice service for further help in managing his finances.
With the payment plan in place, and the guarantee of ongoing support from our services to maintain his rent payments, Mr A’s landlord agreed to withdraw the notice so he could remain in his home.