Out and about-virtually-in Westminster
Citizens Advice Westminster has been out and about – virtually, of course– in Westminster speaking to residents and stakeholders on key issues such as debt, benefits and housing.
Advice Partnership Supervisor Adam Zaki took part in the first ever Westminster City Council’s virtual leaseholder conference on 17 October. The event was opened by David Harvey, council member for housing, who introduced delegates to the support provided by the Leasehold Advisory Service. He also outlined the various proposals for reforms in residential leasehold and said that service charges continued to be among the top 10 enquiries, closely followed by disrepair and lease extension.
Adam outlined the highlights of Citizens Advice Westminster’s performance in 2019/20 when they achieved nearly £4m in financial outcomes for clients and dealt with nearly 3000 enquiries. He also listed the many different types of housing enquiries its advisers deal with, including disrepair, illegal evictions, service charges, and preparing submissions to the Housing Ombudsman service.For more on the conference agenda and presentations click here:https://www.westminster.gov.uk/yourhousing/leaseholderconference
Presentation to councillors
Adam also delivered a training session to the Labour group of 23 councillors in November.
“With the number of job losses growing exponentially and many people facing the need to claim benefits for the first time ever, we wanted to help councillors better navigate the benefits maze and be aware of the latest information about the different categories of financial and other support available to those in financial crisis and arrears, particularly Universal Credit and housing. As our office and outreach centres are closed, we also wanted to ensure that everyone with a problem knows how to reach us by phone or email.”
Explaining the many different kinds of benefits that Citizens Advice Westminster helps clients to secure, Adam pointed out: “Our goal is to help everyone find a way forward, whatever problems they face.” He also referred to the very valuable pro bono solicitor service run by the bureau. “This helps to fill the vacuum left by reductions in legal aid and we help residents with family, immigration and housing matters,” said Adam.
A key feature of the presentation was a guide to the complicated benefits system and the difference between contribution–based benefits and means–tested benefits. Universal credit (UC) has many elements within it, but Adam was able to make clear the difference between the previous list of separate benefits it has consolidated, and the new UC application process and eligibility criteria.
The session was very well received, as one councillor summed up the reaction to the event: “My goodness your training session was amazing. Everyone was really grateful. Take great care.”