Big increase in Norwich people with debt problems

Last year 17,553 people in Norwich went to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) asking for help over their debt problems – an increase of nearly 12pc on the previous year.

A further 11,537 sought help on how to claim benefits, again an increase on the previous year, rising by more than 40pc.

As the economic crisis takes hold and many find themselves out of work, it is no surprise that those seeking help over financial problems is on the increase.

Although financial problems are on the increase, debt is a perpetual problems and the CAB carries out invaluable work to help those in need.

Cases highlighted by the CAB also include those who find themselves strapped for cash for more unusual reasons – including one couple hit by the volcanic ash flight cancellations.

As it publishes the annual review, CAB has provided a number of anonymous case studies:

Mrs A, from Norwich, has a son with severe learning disabilities. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided she had been overpaid benefits. This happened because her son's incapacity benefit had increased and he had failed to notify the DWP – she had assumed it would automatically be taken into account. She appealed with the help of CAB and the DWP admitted it had made an error.

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Mr G had not been able to resolve a problem with the Child Support Agency (CSA). The bureau's intervention revealed that his assessment was wrongly calculated, he was granted a refund of �4,372 and his deduction of earnings order was cancelled. The CSA awarded the client a payment of �100 for his inconvenience.

Mrs H, a Portuguese single parent, was advised by JobCentre Plus to claim income support although she was entitled to jobseeker's allowance as she was seeking work. She was refused due to a change in regulations, and had no income for four months. After the bureau's intervention, JobCentre Plus apologised for their wrong advice and awarded her �1,000 compensation.

After 17 years with his employer, Mr J, from Lakenham, was told that he had to leave. He was 64 years old. The bureau advised him that he had actually been made redundant and he was entitled to redundancy payments as well as money in lieu of notice and holiday pay. After sending a letter drafted by the bureau, he received �10,400

The volcanic ash problem led to flight cancellations which prevented Mr and Mrs Y from taking the holiday they booked to Cyprus. The tour operator at first refused a refund, arguing that the volcanic ash was not in their control. However, after bureau intervention the company paid up.

The CAB used its annual review, launched tonight to back the government's planned reform of the benefits system but stressed the vital importance of ensuring that vulnerable people including carers and disabled people are protected.

Across Norwich and west Norfolk, it advised clients on nearly 73,000 occasions last year and the report says that, on many occasions, inquiries met with costly bureaucracy, inefficiency and poor standards of service arising from the complexity of the current benefit system.

In a poll of national poll of CAB advisers and clients, 81pc said their top priority was a simpler benefits system.

A submission made by the bureau's national association argues that the complexity of the current benefits system causes distress for customers.

Steve Wiseman, pictured below, chief executive officer of the bureau, said: 'Alleviating and solving problems is at the heart of what we do at the bureau.

'Whether it is in our one-to-one advice work, or in the analysis of our client evidence, our job locally and nationally is to seek workable solutions to the difficulties people face in their everyday lives.

'We are therefore urging the chancellor not to abandon those most in need, the people we advise every day.

'Problems can spiral if left unaddressed, resulting in more costly solutions as well as mental and physical symptoms, long-term deterioration of health and the associated impact on the economy.

'Unnecessary complications hinder rather than help people address everyday problems, whereas early help for people experiencing problems is considerably cheaper than the exacerbated costs of trying to pick up the pieces further down the line.'