Take control of your finances
The Wiser Money Advice Service at Citizens Advice Westminster has had a busy start to the year. So far it has held thirteen money management workshops around the borough.
“At a time when the latest Bank of England money and credit statistics show an annual rise of around 10% in consumer credit to over £192 billion, we continue to be in high demand”, explains the bureau’s Financial Capability Coordinator, Christina Oby-Onyia.
“Our service is about helping people to understand the world of personal finance and to empower them to make informed decisions about managing their money. The project delivers two activities: we run financial capability and energy saving workshops on topics such as budgeting, switching energy providers or tariffs, avoiding loan sharks and how to identify affordable credit. We also focus on the importance of savings”, explains Christina, “as this is a very important mindset everyone should develop. For example, our Low-Cost lunch campaign last November was an innovative response by showing how you can easily take control of your weekly outgoings. Making your own lunch to bring to work can save between £800 and £1,500 a year, according to national statistics.
“But each week we also provide individual money advice appointments for clients facing a critical personal financial crisis. This could be because of escalating debt, housing or council tax arrears, credit card and energy debts, mortgage and rent arrears, or the threat of bankruptcy.
“Last year we helped clients achieve over £113,000 in debt write- offs; arranged £23,000 worth of repayment plans; avoided court action for 21 clients; submitted successful debt relief applications for £84,000; prevented bailiff action for 42 people; and achieved reductions and/or removal of administrative and/or court and bailiff fees of a total of £28,595.
Successful energy saving campaign
“Our Energy Best Deal campaign is one of our most successful “, says Christina, “as our latest analysis has found that a typical household in London could save over £145 a year by switching to a cheaper electricity tariff. But we need to encourage more people to take advantage of it as new research reveals that people in the borough are among the least likely to switch energy supplier. Just 7% of Westminster’s 120,000 households switched their electricity supplier between October 2015 and September 2016 – the second lowest switching rate in England.”
However many of those people who do decide to switch have had a very positive experience, as one satisfied client reported back:
“Thank you so much for saving me £350 this year! I have never looked at my electricity/gas bill as a money saving tool. I only ever paid the amount shown on the bill. I have learned something today that I need to look more closely at what it says about my tariff and that I could be better off by switching.”
Christina is confident that if everyone looked at their utility bills more closely they could well find a way to reduce them. What is more she can speak from her own personal experience and “practise what she preaches” herself. For by helping another client to reduce her broadband and TV supplier charges from £64 to £24 a month, she herself realised that she could be saving money on her own package.
The money advice element of the project is funded by the City Bridge Trust and the Energy Best Deal skills workshops are funded by Ofgem and some of the national energy companies. The North Paddington Food Bank sponsors the bureau to tackle financial exclusion by delivering debt advice and money skills training to people attending the local foodbank.
The bureau’s partnership with Citizens Advice Brent gives local residents advice around the new provisions for people over 55 who are able to draw down money from their personal pension.
Westminster Citizens Advice CEO Shirley Springer explains that she has plans to expand the financial capability project to include residents between 16-19. “We want to help young people develop financial skills and an understanding of what affordable credit means at the earliest possible time of their lives so they can avoid spiralling debt and financial crisis later on.”
If you want help with debt problems or to access other money advice or energy saving services you can call us on 0300 330 1191 or contact us online