Hounslow Citizens Advice (HCA) is the oldest advice charity in the borough, forming in 1939 to help people manage the impacts of World War II.
Published: Monday, 20th March 2023
It remains a familiar brand to many. The service is currently provided from five locations across Hounslow every week. We’re a regular collaborator with Community Solutions, and are busier, exceeding the amount of 2021 enquiries within the first six months of 2022.
In the last six months we have helped residents with over 37,000 problems - 58.4% more advice issues than in the first half of 2021. Of these, nearly 21,000 were welfare benefit queries. On average, they were presented with four problems per client.
Drop-in sessions - face to face services - are in particularly high demand as many residents find it easier to explain their issues in person than by phone or digital channels. This weight of incoming interest reflects the current landscape and includes a high proportion of associated mental health issues.
We try, as much as possible, to base ourselves where the need is. We understand that not everyone is able to contact us via the various digital channels we have, (telephone, web chat, emails, etc), or come to our fixed location offices in Chiswick Town Hall or Feltham Library. We have also started delivering the service also from various outreach venues in Hounslow Central, Hounslow West, Isleworth, and two more locations in Feltham. Our advisers are dotted across the borough, offering cost of living crisis support, working from the heart of hard-to-reach communities to ensure the service is available to as many people as possible.
The percentage of clients with a long-term health problem or disability is now 52%, an increase of 8.3% compared to previous periods. Those with personal circumstances that make them more vulnerable are often in need of practical support, which involves additional resources.
Despite a huge increase in the number of people coming through our doors, we know many more are not coming for help. Typically, those are people who find themselves in unfamiliar territory, where they are struggling financially for the first time.
We know that there are many homeowners who are no longer able to pay their mortgages, due to the sudden and sharp increase in mortgage rates. We are seeing more employed people struggling to make ends meet, so, for example, the typical criteria for who needs support such as free school meals, is no longer appropriate.
The impact of negative household budgets has seen a noticeable increase in mental health issues. Many of our clients tell us that their stress is affecting their ability to sleep, concentrate and/or function normally. Relationships are under strain and for some, it’s the first time they’ve been prescribed anti-depressants.
The British Association of Counselling found that 66% of therapists cite cost of living concerns as a cause for a decline in mental health with 61% citing anxiety around household bills, and 52% are reporting clients are losing sleep due to money worries.
Coupled with the fact that 49% are seeing clients cut back on activities that boost mental health, such as gym memberships and 60% are forgoing therapy sessions, it reveals the stark realities of budgeting in 2023.
Sadly, the current economic landscape isn’t going away. We’re looking to expand our Money Advice offer to deal with the current increase in demand, but also to prepare us for what's in store for our service because of the ongoing impact of energy prices.
This will have knock-on effects on many aspects of daily life, from an increase in homelessness, to downsizing, even if unaffordable. The shortage in suitable properties will also price many out of the private renting market and increase the demand for social housing.
But it’s not all bad news. The current situation does seem to be bringing communities closer together, more funders are willing to fund projects in Hounslow now and organisations are collaborating more. HCA’s work is also bringing immediate relief to many. We helped secure £2,574,682 worth of financial gains for clients in the past six months. This figure includes additional benefits clients were able to apply for, renegotiated debt, refunds, and successful challenging of DWP decisions.
Citizens Advice is also a campaigning force, a catalyst for change. We’re uniquely placed to comment on how people are affected by changes to legislation and provision of services. We do this by gathering evidence of problems experienced by clients and identifying emerging trends, enabling us to influence government.
We are reliant on Local Authority and Trust funding to continue our work in Hounslow and are always on the look-out for good volunteers.
If you think you have skills that would be of benefit to Citizens Advice Hounslow, see HERE for further details.